Bursting with Life I Ukiyo-e from the Collections of Johann Georg Geyger and Otto Riese

27 April - 27 October 2013

Garishly made-up stars of the stage, delicate beauties in the tea houses, sublime landscapes along the major trade routes – the ukiyo-e woodcuts present a fascinating mirror image of life in seventeenth to nineteenth-century Japan.

Numbering more than 240, the works on view provided a fascinating mirror image of life in a country almost completely isolated from the rest of the world during the period in question – from the mid seventeenth century until about 1850. Erotic adventures, the heroes of the kabuki theatre, the spectacular landscapes experienced on journeys and pleasure trips – they all became the subjects of masterful prints that usually cost no more than a bowl of noodle soup and enjoyed great popularity throughout the bourgeois society of Edo-Period Japan (1603–1868).

The ukiyo-e images (literally “pictures of the floating world”) were first drawn by draughtsmen working for enterprising publishers and then serially produced by specialists organized in a system based on the division of labour; often a different printing block was used for each of the many different colours. The editions ranged from a few dozen to twenty thousand in size, depending entirely on market demand. In the case of large editions, the worn-down blocks were reworked or replaced as needed.

Ukiyo-e represents one of Japan’s most influential contributions to the art of the world. Once the country had opened its doors to the rest of the globe in the mid nineteenth century, it was not long before the first woodcuts made their way to Europe. Artists such as Monet, Manet, Van Gogh and many others drew inspiration from them. Impressive collections were soon amassed – incidentally, at an earlier date in Europe than in Japan itself, where this art form was long considered inferior.

Curator: Dr. Stephan von der Schulenburg

Bursting Life II

The Otto Riese and Johann Georg Geyger Collections

Where his collecting activities were concerned, the painter and Städel professor Johann Georg Geyger (1921–2004) concentrated entirely on the early phase of ukiyo-e. His collection comprises some 60 exquisite examples and is considered one of the most important worldwide for this particular area.
Like Geyger, Otto Riese (1894–1977) – a native of Frankfurt – was fascinated by ukiyo-e from a young age. For his broadly based holdings, the doctor of jurisprudence and specialist in international law chose works exclusively according to the very highest standards of artistic quality and thus created a collection presumably no longer to be found in this form anywhere on the art market. The Riese collection encompasses 180 superb works representing all of the important motif types within ukiyo-e: the classical masters of the courtesan and actor portraits, Utamaro and Sharaku, as well as Hokusai’s and Hiroshige’s landscapes and genre scenes. It also includes excellent examples dating from the early phase of this art, revolving almost exclusively around the theatre world and nocturnal amusements. The two collections accordingly complement one another in ideal manner and together offer a representative overview of the most important phase of this great Japanese art.

The exhibition catalogue “Heroes of the Stage and Beauties of the Night: Masterpieces of Japanese Woodblock Printing from the Otto Riese and Johann Georg Geyger Collections” offers a survey of the museum’s holdings, and extensive additional research material has been made available on the website www.ukipedia.de.

The Geyger collection was purchased in 2002 thanks to support from numerous donors; it was not until the summer of 2012 that, as the result of a joint effort by the Kunstgewerbeverein in Frankfurt am Main e.V. and the Museum Angewandte Kunst, the Otto Riese collection was secured for the Museum Angewandte Kunst.

This purchase, which is of outstanding significance for the museum, was made possible above all by: Kulturstiftung der Länder, Berlin, Hessische Kulturstiftung, Wiesbaden, Privatbank B. Metzler seel. Sohn & Co. KGaA, Stadt Frankfurt am Main, Kunstgewerbeverein in Frankfurt am Main e.V., Rudolf-August Oetker-Stiftung, Kuraray Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main, Georg und Franziska Speyersche Hochschulstiftung, Marga Coing-Stiftung, Frankfurter Sparkasse and Trudel Klefisch.