Image of Installation of An Exhibition of Japanese Prints from the Collection of Sir Chester Beatty Held 10-29 May 1955 at Regent House, Trinity College, Dublin

Exhibition

Edo in Colour

Prints from Japan’s Metropolis

History of the collection

The collections of the Chester Beatty include more than 800 Japanese woodblock prints and 100 woodblock printed books. Sir Alfred Chester Beatty began collecting Japanese prints in earnest in 1954 when he purchased the collection of the late Herbert Francis Thomas Cooper (1874–1944), an architect for London County Council. Over the next decade, this collection was developed and refined under the guidance of print specialist Jack Hillier (1912–95). Scouring the auction rooms of London and Paris, Hillier selected exquisite prints and books by Edo’s leading artists with provenances extending to some of Europe’s best-known collectors.

Back to Edo in Colour

Installation of An Exhibition of Japanese Prints from the Collection of Sir Chester Beatty
Held 10-29 May 1955 at Regent House, Trinity College, Dublin
CBP 425

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  • Image of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty in Nice, 1953

    Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875–1968)
    Nice, 1953
    The arts of Japan were an early passion for Chester Beatty, who brought collections of netsuke and inrō (small toggles and containers) from New York to London in 1914. A visit to Japan three years later saw this interest extend to narrative paintings and Buddhist art. And yet, other than a few purchases of printed books, woodblock prints remained off Beatty’s agenda. When Beatty established a new home for his collection in Dublin in the early 1950s, he also began to reassess its scope. One ‘gap’ so identified was Japan’s printed arts.

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  • Image of a Letter from A. C. Beatty to W. Merton 19 April 1954

    Letter from A. C. Beatty to W. Merton
    19 April 1954
    CBP 1500
    In 1954, London dealer-publishers Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. brought Beatty news of a collection of some 620 Japanese prints. The collection spanned the breadth of printmaking’s history in the Edo period (c. 1603–1868), from early actor prints to later landscapes. The larger part of the collection had been assembled by London architect, HFT Cooper, in the first part of the 20th century. On 19 May 1955, Beatty purchased it for the reasonable and considerable sum of £4250.

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  • Image of Japanese print showing sunset over Ryōgoku bridge from Onmaya embankment

    Viewing sunset over Ryōgoku bridge from Onmaya embankment
    From the series 36 views of Mount Fuji
    Katsushika Hokusai
    Japan, c. 1832
    CBL J 2750
    Immediately on securing the Cooper collection, Beatty engaged print specialist Jack Hillier to supplement his purchase. Although correspondence shows that Beatty steered Hillier towards the privately commissioned prints known as surimono (then selling at lower prices than their commercially published counterparts), for the most part, Beatty offered Hillier only slight direction. Hillier’s particular appreciation for Japanese printed books and the works of Katsushika Hokusai was soon shared by Beatty.

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  • Image of the front cover of A Catalogue of Fine Japanese Coloured Prints

    A Catalogue of Fine Japanese Coloured Prints
    Glendining and Co.
    11–12 April 1960
    The majority of prints sourced by Hillier for Beatty’s collection came from art dealers and auction sales in England and France. London’s auction houses routinely engaged Hillier to catalogue Japanese prints rostered for sale, lending him unique insight into the market. This 1960 sale of Japanese prints at London auction house Glendining and Co. was cited by Hillier as being ‘about the most important since the war.’ Nearly £2000 was spent on prints for Beatty’s collection.

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  • Image of Japanese print showing First month, from the series Twelve months of popular customs

    First month
    From the series Twelve months of popular customs
    Katsukawa Shunchō
    Japan, 1785–89
    CBL J 2631
    European fervour for Japanese prints extended back to the second half of the 19th century. One of the market’s formative proponents was dealer Hayashi Tadamasa. Born in Japan in 1853, Hayashi attended the 1878 Paris world’s fair as assistant to Japan’s commissar, and later established an art dealership in the city. Realising the value of his connoisseurship, Hayashi marked many prints with his red name seal, visible above the publisher’s mark in this New Year scene.

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  • Image of Japanese printed book showing Evening snow on the mochi stand

    Evening snow on the mochi stand
    In the album Eight views of Tōei's foothills
    Attributed to Kitao Shigemasa
    Japan, c. 1777
    CBL J 1680
    A number of different collectors’ marks can be found on the prints and printed books purchased for Beatty’s collection. This album of extremely rare city scenes carries the distinctive device of Théodore Duret. One of the first in Europe to recognise Japan’s illustrated books as works of art, Duret travelled to Japan in 1871 to 1872 with Henri Cernuschi (whose own collection is preserved the eponymous Paris museum). Other collectors referenced by marks of ownership include Louis Gonse, author of L’art japonais (1883), and artist Paul Blondeau.

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  • Image of Japanese print showing Arai: Ferry boat

    Arai: Ferry boat
    From the series 53 stations of the Tōkaidō
    Utagawa Hiroshige
    Japan, 1833–34
    CBL J 2679
    One artist never to find Beatty’s favour was Utagawa Hiroshige. According to the memoir of Sheila Powerscourt, Beatty regarded this artist—one of Japan’s most celebrated—as ‘an illustrator,’ letting him off only for his snow scenes. Already well represented in the Cooper collection, Hillier acquired only a few works by Hiroshige for Beatty. This print from the famous Hōeidō Tōkaidō series was bought at the Mellor sale at Sotheby’s in 1963 and was one of the last to be added to the collection.

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  • Image of Installation of An Exhibition of Japanese Prints from the Collection of Sir Chester Beatty Held 10-29 May 1955 at Regent House, Trinity College, Dublin

    Installation of An Exhibition of Japanese Prints from the Collection of Sir Chester Beatty
    Held 10-29 May 1955 at Regent House, Trinity College, Dublin
    CBP 425
    Beatty’s goals in acquiring Japanese prints were inextricably linked to the new public role he envisaged for his collections in the 1950s. In May 1955, Beatty lent 132 prints for a special exhibition at Trinity College as part of the celebrations for An Tóstal, a festival of Irish culture. The prints were arranged on modern freestanding units in the historic setting of Regent House. According to the Irish Times, ‘So many people were present at the opening that it was virtually impossible to see the exhibits.’

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  • Image of Japanese print showing Two youths playing flutes

    Two youths playing flutes
    Torii Kiyonaga
    Japan, 1782
    CBL J 2855
    While the Chester Beatty does not actively collect, occasionally new works are added to museum’s collection, increasing the range of the stories that can be told. For Edo in Colour, the Friends of the Chester Beatty raised money to support the purchase of this elegant pillar print by Torii Kiyonaga. Featuring two male youths (suggested to be a third gender in the Edo period) and references to male-male sex, this print supports exploration of histories of sexuality and gender within the exhibition.

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Open today 9:45am - 5:30pm

Monday to Friday 9:45am - 5:30pm
Wednesday 9:45am - 8:00pm
Saturday 9:45am - 5:30pm
Sunday 12:00pm - 5:30pm


Closed Mondays: Nov - Feb
Closed 1 Jan; Good Friday; 24-26 Dec

Admission is Free
No booking required
Suggested donation €5

Map

Chester Beatty
Dublin Castle
Dublin 2
D02 AD92