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These incredible 200-year-old Japanese prints are going on show in Dublin

They’re part of a huge Chester Beatty collection.

EIGHTY STUNNING JAPANESE woodblock prints have gone on display in Dublin.

The Japanese Surimono prints will be on display from 3 March to 27 August at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, near Dublin Castle. The images, which date back to the early 1800s, are quite unusual in terms of Japanese art collections.

CBL J 2112 Series for the Hanazono Group: It is good to dress in new clothes. Totoya Hokkei. Japan, c. 1824. Source: The Chester Beatty Library

Mary Redfern, curator of East Asian Collections at the Chester Beatty library, told TheJournal.ie that the images are part of the permanent collection and were collected by Chester Beatty between 1954 and 1963.

“In 1954 he acquired a huge collection of Japanese woodblock prints, 600 in all, that started him off really collecting these kinds of materials,” she explained.

She said the Surimono prints are “a very special kind of Japanese woodblock print”. “They weren’t produced for the public,” she explained.

CBL J 2028 Masazumi, Hakaze and Abō visiting Rokujuen. Yashima Gakutei. Woodblock print, Japan, c. 1819 Source: The Chester Beatty Library

“They were made for poetry groups – they were effectively privately commissioned prints with the poetry groups, who would write their own poems and give these to an artist who would create an image to complement the poetry.”

The poets would exchange the prints between themselves and their friends.

“They really are a very special group in Japanese colour prints, because they weren’t made with profit margins in mind. The finish in them is incredible – they used the most refined techniques,” said Redfern.

CBL J 2011 Mashizu preparing to write her first calligraphy of the New Year. Keisai Eisen Woodblock print, Japan, mid-1820s Source: The Chester Beatty Library

New York-born Chester Beatty was a prolific collector, who on his death left his collection to a trust to benefit the public. He was made Ireland’s first honorary citizen in 1957.

Beatty decided to “go all out on these prints” and was guided by an expert when collecting them, explained Redforn. Around 80 of the prints went on display at the library on Friday, which is just a quarter of the collection.

“Most of the time these collections stay in storage – we can only display a tiny proportion of what we have in the library collection in the permanent galleries,” said Redfern.

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CBL J 2001 Courtesan preparing to inscribe a poem slip. Keisai Eisen, Woodblock print, Japan, early 1820s Source: The Chester Beatty Library

The collections at the library from around the world – such as art, books, icons and manuscripts – are of such a high standard, people come from around the globe to study them, said Redfern.

“It is something we can all be proud of. It was wonderful for Chester Beatty to bring his collection to Ireland,” she added. “It gives us a wonderful chance to get to engage with cultures of the world.”

CBL J 2122 Pekinese dog with decorative ball. Totoya Hokkei. Japan, 1826. Source: The Chester Beatty Library

A number of events will take place to mark the opening of the exhibition. For more details, visit the Chester Beatty Library website. Entry to the exhibition is free.

Read: This Irish film tells the fascinating story of a tiny folk-artist called Maud>

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