Eisen Keisai’s woodblock print View of Shogetsu Pond is currently on view in the exhibition Infinite Blue. One of the earliest blue prints (azuri-e) the image depicts a Chinese landscape and was possibly inspired by Chinese porcelain. The Brooklyn Museum holds the only known impression of this print, which was intended to be mounted to a wooden support and used as a fan. This impression may be from a publishers sample book, which could explain why it survives today.
Previous analysis suggested that the object was printed entirely with Prussian blue, a synthetic pigment developed in Germany during the early eighteenth century. Prussian blue was introduced to the Japanese printmaking industry in the early 1820’s, where it appeared in polychrome actor prints from Osaka. Previously, printmakers used indigo and dayflower blue. Printed in 1829, View of Shogetsu Pond is one of the earliest known examples from Tokyo to incorporate Prussian blue.
As discussed in previous posts, we have been using our new multiband imaging equipment to characterize and differentiate pigments and determine their spatial relationship within a work of art. Through these techniques, we surmised that this print consists not only of Prussian blue, but also indigo. Interestingly, indigo appears to have been used to print the finer details of the image.
Due to variations in their chemical composition, indigo and Prussian blue respond differently to specific regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. As you can see in the infrared image above (middle right), indigo reflects infrared energy around 800 nm, appearing nearly transparent, while Prussian blue strongly absorbs that energy, appearing dark grey. Although indigo is reflective of infrared around 800 nm, it is strongly absorbent at 660 nm. We captured images in each region and subtracted their pixel values in Adobe Photoshop (bottom right). The resulting black and white image highlights areas printed with indigo. To further facilitate the detection of different materials, we created a “false color” composite (bottom, left), combining the visible light image and the infrared image in Adobe Photoshop. In false color, indigo appears magenta and Prussian blue appears violet. We then confirmed the presence of these pigments using fiber optics reflectance spectroscopy (FORS).
We plan to analyze additional Japanese woodblock prints from the collection in preparation for future installations of Infinite Blue. Please check back for updates!
While seemingly simple, Marilyn Minter’s early painterly works, defined by color and texture, engage a nuanced set of artistic problems that still inspire Minter today. They are the first instances of her career-long relationship with photorealism, and reveal her interest in the visual play between photography and painting. The littered linoleum floors suggest domestic spaces—the site of traditional women’s work. Minter’s meticulous representation asks the viewer to consider this underrecognized labor and its everyday details.
Marilyn Minter (American, born 1948). Paper Curls, 1976. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York