Chazen Museum of Art


An Exhibition of Japanese Prints Featuring the Sea Opens June 8 at the Chazen Museum of Art


Madison, Wis., May 23, 2013—The sea plays an important part in Japan’s art and culture. The artists of an island nation so dependent upon the wealth and wrath of the ocean are inevitably drawn to the sea as setting and subject. One work that stands out among traditional Japanese sea prints is Gifts of the Ebb Tide, also called The Shell Book, designed by Kitagawa Utamaro. To celebrate the acquisition of an early impression of the book, the museum will place it on view with other Japanese prints from the collection that feature the sea. Gifts of the Ebb Tide: The Sea in Japanese Prints will be on view at the Chazen from June 8 to September 1, 2013.

Utamaro was commissioned by the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo to create the images for Gifts of the Ebb Tide, a book of only eight prints. The volume established Utamaro as a designer and is still considered the period’s most beautiful. The book recounts a trip taken by seven poets to tide pools near Edo. The poets wrote 5-line waka verses about the day and the shells; the poems were transcribed by calligrapher Chieda no Hanamoto and illustrated by Utamaro. The printing abounds with luxurious details, including gold leaf, sparkling mica, and embossing to convey the subtle textures of the shells.

In addition to its subtle beauty, the book is famed for complex allusions to Japanese history and society. Some themes in Gifts of the Ebb Tide, including the shell game, sea deities, and ocean life, recur in other prints of this exhibition.

There will be a gallery talk with Andrew Stevens, the museum’s curator of prints, drawings and photographs, on Thursday, June 27, 2013, at 5:30 p.m.

Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Chazen Museum of Art Council and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Digital images for media use are available upon request. Contact: Susan Day, Editor, (608) 263-2068,

The Chazen Museum of Art is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The main entrance is accessible to wheelchairs. Parking is available at the City of Madison State Street Campus Ramp (entrances on Frances and Lake streets) and under University Square. Hourly parking is available in the UW lot 46 with credit card payment. Evening and weekend parking is also available in UW lot 83 under Fluno Center, entrance on Frances Street, and in UW lot 7 under Grainger Hall, entrance on Brooks Street. The Chazen will provide sign language interpreters for associated programs by three-week advance request to Anne Lambert, Curator of Education, weekdays, (608) 263-4421 (voice). Information is also available by visiting our website at

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