Home > Exhibitions > Current Exhibitions> > Kiyochika: Master of the Night

Detail, Sumida River by Night, Kobayashi Kiyochika; Japan, 1881; Woodblock print; ink and color on paper; Robert O. Muller Collection

Kiyochika: Master of the Night

March 29–July 27, 2014
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

On September 3, 1868, the city called Edo ceased to exist. Renamed Tokyo (“Eastern Capital”) by Japan’s new rulers, the city became the primary experiment in a national drive toward modernization. Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847–1915), a minor retainer of the recently deposed shogun, followed his master into exile. When he returned to his birthplace in 1874, Kiyochika found Tokyo filled with railroads, steamships, gaslights, telegraph lines, and large brick buildings—never-before-seen entities that were now ingrained in the cityscape.

Self-trained as an artist, Kiyochika set out to record his views of Tokyo. A devastating fire engulfed the city in 1881 and effectively ended the project, but the ninety-three prints he had completed were unlike anything previously produced by a Japanese artist. Avoiding the colorful and celebratory cityscapes of traditional woodblock prints, Kiyochika focused on light and its effects. Dawn, dusk, and night were his primary moments of observation, and his subjects—both old and new—are veiled in sharply angled light, shadows, and darkness. To accommodate this new way of seeing, Kiyochika effectively invented a visual vocabulary that incorporated elements of oil painting, copperplate printing, and photography. Interest in Kiyochika’s prints revived in the 1910s, when Tokyo intellectuals began to interpret the series as a critique of modernity.

In the exhibition, approximately half of the prints from the Kiyochika’s views of Tokyo are displayed in thematic groupings that represent the artist’s unique visions and site selections. Beyond describing the odd juxtapositions of traditional and modern, Kiyochika lingers on more subtle shifts in communal sensibility. He shows a population inclined to spectatorship over participation and introduces solitary figures sleepwalking in a new landscape.



Kiyochika: Master of the Night

Gallery »
Map »

City View

Tokyo and London as seen by Kiyochika and Whistler »

related events
Celebrate the closing weekend of Kiyochika: Master of the Night at our City Nights Open House, July 25, 5:30-8:30 pm

related exhibitions

An American in London: Whistler and the Thames



Press Release
Press Images (PDF)


The Freer|Sackler is closed for renovation and reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Join us for our reopening celebration on October 14–15, 2017.