The exposition 'Birds and flowers' showed lithographs by Theo van Hoytema and Japanese woodblocks in Centre Ceramique, Avenue Ceramique 50, Maastricht, Netherlands on the third floor from October 16 to December 31, 2001.

The prints of birds and flowers were be exhibited in three parts:

I.     Van Hoytema’s first calender and previous Japanese prints (Oct. 16-Nov. 4)

II.    Van Hoytema’s later calenders and contemporay Japanese prints (Nov. 5-Dec. 3)

III.   Van Hoytema’s last work and Shin Hanga (Dec. 4-Dec. 31).


Japanese predecessors of Van Hoytema

When the great tradition of Japanese woodblocks began, it was affected by Chinese nature and landscape prints. Circa 1770, Hyakki published a woodcut with descending geese and waving autumn grass. The stylised picture shows the Chinese influence.

Hokusai and Hiroshige designed the classical, dynamic birds-and-flowers prints. These artists were part of a team; we should call it a studio. The publisher (manager) and artist used to decide about the subjects. Thereafter, the artist painted a water-colour, woodcutters made the woodblocks and printers produced the final result. The example was published circa 1832. This static subject becomes vivid by the movement of the wings and a slight wind seems to wave the branches. 

Hyakki, Descending geese

 Hiroshige, Peach blossoms and swallows

These two prints are authentic reproductions by the Adachi Institute for Woodcuts. The blocks were recut for each colour. All other exhibited woodcuts have been printed from the original blocks.


Theo van Hoytema (1863-1917)

A great artist of birds-and-flowers prints was Theo van Hoytema. The influences of Jugendstil and Japanese woodcuts are obvious. His work became known, when he published illustrated fairy tales for children in the 1890's. These Dutch books innovated the dull educational tradition and preceded the comic strips. He published calenders from 1902-1918. The lithographs were drawn on stone. Several stones had to be prepared, if he used different colours. Pictures from the calender pages are shown. The strict contours in black lines have gone. He uses coloured outlines like the impressionists.

Theo van Hoytema, July and October 1902

The following lithographs are from his best period. Sometimes he scratched in the stones, if he wanted relief. The results are seemingly simple and very convincing.

Theo van Hoytema, February and April 1913

Due to syphillis, he was hardly able to design his last calender in 1917. It was published posthumously. The next lithograph illustrates his final state of mind.

Theo van Hoytema, A wounded bird (September 1918)


Japanese contemporaries

Very realistic woodblocks of birds were designed by Ogata Gekko (1859-1920) and Ohara Koson (1877-1945). When they started their work at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, the Japanese interest for woodcuts in general had faded. Especially, the birds-and-flowers prints were only judged on their craftsmanship and considered as a lesser art. Sales depended on American tourists and collectors.

     Ohara Koson, Two swallows on a branch             Five herons in the snow, 1927

Koson or Shoson was a specialist of kacho-e (birds-and-flowers prints). Sometimes his work presented grey rain scenes. The two examples are colourful. A great similarity with Van Hoytema's great creative talent is obvious, but more advanced technical means were available for Koson's woodcuts. 


Shin Hanga

Toshi Yoshida (1911-1995) was the son of the famous landscape artist Hiroshi Yoshida. At first his prints were strongly influenced by his father. Later he finds his own way with nature woodcuts. His impressive print of an owl in a gloomy African sky measures 12 x 24 inches. It shows fantastic movement in a woodcut. 

Toshi Yoshida, Flying (1975)

In the 1990's, he gave a new content to the birds-and-flowers print. The spring and autumn leaves in two prints model a composition around the birds.

Toshi Yoshida, Double cherry



Exhibitions of Japanese prints at the Centre Céramique

Series by Hokusai and Yoshitoshi