Featured Book ReviewArt of the Japanese Postcard



Art of the Japanese Postcard

Essays by  Anne Nishimura Morse, J. Thomas Rimer and Kendall H. Brown

Published by Lund Humphries in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - March 2004

ISBN 0 85331 902 2


From the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, Japan was a vital world centre for postcard art. More than just casual mail pieces, these postcards were often designed by prominent artists and had a visual impact that belied their modest format. Remarkably beautiful examples of graphic design in their own right, they also recorded the shifting definitions of 'East' and 'West' at a time when such European currents as Art Nouveau began to show up in Japanese visual productions.

Art of the Japanese Postcard presents 426 full-colour examples of these cards, culled from the vast Leonard A. Lauder Collection. They are astonishing not only for their beauty and the quality of their printing, but also for the insight they provide into contemporary Japanese artistic practices - insights not relayed in standard histories that focus on painting and sculpture - as well as for the fluid interplay of European and Japanese modes. Authoritative essays by leading scholars of Japanese art and culture, plus a statement by the collector himself, highlight the design, development, and cultural function of these rarely studied, but highly influential and visually exciting, expressions of graphic genius.

Anne Nishimura Morse is Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. J. Thomas Rimer is a Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. Kendall H. Brown is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at California State University, Long Beach.

The first impression of this book is very favourable -  attractive cover design, solidly-bound hardback, 288 pages full of superb reproductions on high qualit
y paper.  And the contents do not disappoint.  I have long had an interest in Japanese postcards and have a small collection myself, but Leonard A. Lauder has discovered and preserved examples of types which I had never seen before. 

The wood-block prints and painted screens of early Japanese art are well known throughout the world, and contemporary Japanese art and design is also famous.  Until now I have always felt that there was a void between the two periods, with little to explain the transition and influences.  This book fills the void using postcard design, a form of communication which itself was introduced and became popular during that transitional period, and in so doing makes a vital contribution to the history of Japanese art.

It is well known that at the end of the nineteenth century Western artists drew inspiration from Japanese visual arts in the movement usually described as 'Japonisme'.  This book shows how young Japanese artists were studying Western techniques at the same time and created their own 'Europeanisme'.

A huge range of topics is covered by the essays which introduce and explain the 462 full-colour examples - from traditional Japanese life to fashion and the modern woman, the Russo-Japanese War,  Art Nouveau, humour, advertising material - yet what they all have in common is a freshness of approach and an attractive vitality.  If you have any interest in Japanese art and its history, or if you are an artist seeking inspiration, this book is a must.  And if you are neither of these, but would take pleasure in a book that you can simply dip into to discover delightful images and fascinating insights into an exotic society in the process of change, then be sure to add this title to your Christmas list - or better still, treat yourself now at a bargain price from the publisher's website!

John Simpson June '04

For more details or to order this book at a special discount (28 instead of 35)  click here for the Lund Humphries website

For more books on Japan see our Bibliography

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