A Japanese Woodblock Smackdown!

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Photo

Japanese actors from the 19th-century, done in woodblock by Utagawa Kunisada.

Credit
Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III)/William Sturgis Bigelow Collection; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, lovers of Japanese woodblock art: Let’s get ready to rumble! In this corner, the prince of portraits, the regent of realism, the king of Kabuki-actor pictures: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864). And in this corner, the wizard of warriors, the sultan of the supernatural, the ancestor of anime: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861).

These two titans, the best-selling woodblock artists of 19th-century Japan, are squaring off in “Showdown! Kuniyoshi vs. Kunisada,” opening Friday, Aug. 11, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Each artist had his specialties, but they also took on many of the same subjects, illustrating tales of adventure, mythical monsters and famous theater actors. Before there were magazines or movies or manga, these artists indelibly shaped Japan’s early popular culture. The 100 works on view, drawn from the museum’s collection, will be framed in black ash (for Kuniyoshi) or cherry (for Kunisada), and visitors will be encouraged to pick favorites in an in-gallery quiz (also available online). Ding! Ding! (Through Dec. 10; mfa.org.)

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