Past Exhibitions


February 3, 2007 - April 7, 2007
On February 3, 2007, an exhibition of more than 70 woodblock prints by Japanese artist Tsukioka Kgyo opens at The Frick Art Museum. Tsukioka Kgyo (1869-1927) was a master of the Japanese woodblock print at the turn of the twentieth century and spent much of his working life creating prints that documented the traditions of Noh, a form of Japanese theater dating to the fourteenth century. This exhibition presents Kgyo's striking images of Noh theater, which function as accomplished and sophisticated individual art works as well as a historical record of Noh customs and performances.

Tsukioka Kgyo, born Hany Sadanosuke, was the son of innkeepers in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. When he was fifteen years old, his mother married Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, a distinguished master of ukiyo-e printmaking. From his famous stepfather, the young Kgyo received some of his earliest training in printmaking and painting as well as a new name, Tsukioka. Although their styles and subject matter were different, Kgyo acquired both a knowledge of print design and an enthusiasm for Noh theater from his stepfather, who had a lifelong fascination with Noh.

The heyday of Japanese prints was during the Edo period (1603-1868) when Japan was ruled by warlords known as Shoguns. Ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world," immortalized aspects of life and entertainments enjoyed by the newly prosperous merchant classes-courtesans, landscape and city views, and Kabuki actors, all of which were depicted in brightly colored, mass-produced woodblock prints. Kabuki was a form of popular theater, featuring stories of gallant samurai and vengeful ghosts.

In this period, the shogun and many of his subordinate lords had subsidized noh as an important part of late feudal cultural life. In 1868, with the fall of the shogun and restoration of the emperor to power, actors lost their guaranteed income and had to look for other ways to support themselves. The solution to their problem came in two ways. First, the Meiji government decided to use noh as its official entertainment for visiting foreign dignitaries. Much as Japanese officials, when they went to Europe, were taken to the opera, so Western leaders, beginning with ex-president Ulysses S. Grant in 1879, were taken to see noh. Second, many of the new elite, especially merchants who had been treated as second-class citizens in the feudal era, took up the study of noh as amateurs.

Noh theater-its name derives from the Japanese word n, meaning "talent" or "skill"-dates from the fourteenth century, when acting troupes traveled to temples, shrines, and festivals. By mid-century, troupe leader Kan'ami Kiyotsugu (1333-1383) and his son Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1441), under the patronage of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, had created what is now recognized as noh out of various theatrical traditions. Zeami wrote at least twenty plays, most of which continue to be performed today. He also wrote many treatises about noh, which since they were discovered in the early twentieth century, have been studied by noh actors and scholars alike.

Kgyo began producing his theater woodblock prints in 1897, with Ngakuzue (Illustrations of Noh) an extensive series of 261 images in the horizontal ban (folio) format. In a second series, Ngaku hyakuban (One Hundred Prints of the Noh), created between 1922 and 1926, he designed a further 120 prints in the vertical format. At the time of his death in 1927, Kgyo was working on still another series, Nga taikan (A Great Collection of Noh Pictures), featuring 200 prints, which were completed by Matsuno Sf after Kgyo's death.

While Kabuki prints idolized popular actors in their most famous roles, Kgyo's Noh prints often focus on the main character and his sumptuous costume by surrounding it by white space. Kgyo was masterful at using compositional accents, such as a vase of flowers or a glimpse of text, to suggest an important point of the story to knowledgeable viewers.

Kgyo's Noh prints included impressive painterly effects and beautifully applied inks in gradated printings, which were produced with extreme care, and the use of metallic embellishment. In addition to his Noh prints, Kgyo created a number of fine woodcuts dealing with natural history, such as his kach-e, or bird and flower prints, and was an accomplished painter of both Noh and nature subjects.

Yoshitoshi, and to a much greater degree his stepson Kgyo, and then Kgyo's daughter Gyokusei and disciple Matsuno Sf, were key players in the modern popularization of Noh. Kgyo produced over three dozen Noh paintings, created three sets of prints (almost 600 individual prints) of Noh and other theater subjects, did over one hundred illustrations of Noh and half as many non-Noh illustrations for Japan's first graphic magazine, Fzoku gah. He also produced small postcard prints to be sold by the Noh publishing house, Wan'ya.

Kgyo's work on Noh covers several decades creating an artistically elegant and beautiful record of this theatrical genre's customs and performances. "We were struck by the beauty of Kgyo's prints as artworks, not just as historical documents," says Richard Smethurst, professor of Japanese history at the University of Pittsburgh. "They stand in their own light as works of art." Mae Smethurst, professor of classics at the University of Pittsburgh and specialist in Greek tragedy and Noh, adds that with the opening of Japan to the West, Kgyo himself was influenced by Western art, and incorporated these new perspectives into the tradition of the Japanese print. The more than 70 prints in the exhibition will also include a small selection of Kgyo's bird and nature prints and a few examples of his rarely shown paintings.

The Prints of Tsukioka Kgyo is organized by the Frick Art & Historical Center and curated by Dr. Richard Smethurst, Dr. Mae J. Smethurst, Dr. Thomas Rimer, and Robert Schaap.

The exhibition is made possible, in part, through the generosity of the Japan Foundation, the Townsend and Frances Burden Foundation, and members of the Frick Art & Historical Center.

A brochure for this exhibition has been made possible by the Asian Studies Center, University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh.

Education programs for this exhibition are co-sponsored by the Asian Studies Center, University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh.

The University of Pittsburgh's Asian Studies Center will present a double bill of Noh in the Stephen Foster Memorial's Charity Randall Theatre at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 23, 2007. Aoi-no-Ue (Lady Aoi) and Hagoromo (The Feathered Cloak) will be performed by acclaimed Japanese Noh artist Hisa Uzawa and a group of 12 actors and musicians wearing elegant costumes and masks. For tickets to the performance, call the University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre Box Office at 412-624-PLAY (7529).

The Frick Art Museum at the Frick Art & Historical Center contains collections of fine and decorative arts assembled by Helen Clay Frick, daughter of Henry Clay Frick. In addition to exhibiting its permanent collection, which has strengths in Italian Renaissance and French eighteenth-century painting, the Museum has an active program of temporary exhibitions.

The Frick Art & Historical Center is located at 7227 Reynolds Street in Point Breeze. Free parking is available in the Frick's off-street lot, or along adjacent streets.

The Frick is open 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, and closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to The Frick Art Museum, Car and Carriage Museum, Greenhouse, and Playhouse is free. Docent-led tours of The Prints of Tsukioka Kgyo are available free of charge on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Groups of five or more and those interested in scheduling a tour of the permanent collection are requested to schedule a private tour at an alternate time. The cost for group tours and permanent collection tours is $7 per person, and reservations must be made one to two weeks in advance. Call 412-371-0600, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Monday-Sunday.

Tours of Clayton are available Tuesday through Sunday; reservations are recommended. Admission is $12 for the general public and $10 for students and seniors.

For information and reservations, call 412-371-0600, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Monday through Sunday, or visit the Frick's Web site at

For further information or images, please contact Greg Langel at 412-371-0600, ext. 524, or at

The Frick Art & Historical Center, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, is an historic site and cultural center with a mission to serve the public through preservation, presentation, and interpretation of the fine and decorative arts and historically significant artifacts for all residents of and visitors to Western Pennsylvania.