Three Japanese Woodblock Prints

While there is very little blank space on Rose’s Mount Vernon Street bedroom walls, there are three Japanese woodblock prints that stand out. Two of the prints are by Andō Hiroshige (1797-1858). The first is entitled “Cherry Blossoms on the Bank of the Sumida River” and pictures the hundreds of cherry blossom trees on the Sumida River where many festivals are held. The second is “Scene of Yedo” which is believed to picture Edo (now modern Tokyo) and also celebrates the cherry blossoms, which only bloom for two weeks a year. The other print is by Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825) and is entitled “Mare Sankura Portrait” and features the 18th century Kabuki actor Mare Sankura.

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Cherry Blossoms on the Bank of the Sumida River, 1840-1858, Andō Hiroshige. 

The three woodblock (nishiki-e) prints were made during the Edo period, which is characterized by peace and prosperity. There was a strict hierarchical class structure during this time. Samurais protected the emperor and Zen Buddhism and Confucianism emerged as powerful societal influences.[1] Japanese citizens became more intellectually engaged and the arts flourished. Making one woodblock print required work from many different people. Each print required a designer, engraver, printer, and publisher.[2] The prints are done in the ukiyo-e style, which translated from Japanese means “pictures of the floating world” and is a Buddhist concept that represents the transience of life.[3] Woodblock printing was popular because once the woodblock was engraved the prints could be mass-produced. It makes sense that this would be true since the ukiyo-e movement was characterized by its widespread appeal because it made portraits of the famous more accessible to many classes.[4]

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Scenes of Yedo, 1840-1858, Andō Hiroshige.

Toyokuni was from Edo and helped to popularize the ukiyo-e style. He specialized in prints of theater actors and women, just like the one we see here in Rose’s room featuring a Kabuki actor. Here, a theater actor, Mare Sankura, bears two scabbards with two swords protruding from his kimono sash, or obi. 

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Mare Sankura Portrait, late 19th century, Utagawa Toyokuni

Toyokuni’s vivid and dramatic work really represented the foundations of the style, as he was an earlier member of the movement.[5] In fact, Hiroshige wished to be his student but as not accepted into his school. Instead, Hiroshige, also born in Edo, worked with Utagawa Toyohiro who took his work in a different direction. Instead of bringing Japan’s beautiful women and actors to the masses, Hiroshige wanted to cover Japan’s beauty and show everyday life through landscapes.[6] Hiroshige reached a higher level of popularity than Toyokuni did and his works inspired the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet.[7] He represented the back half of the ukiyo-e movement, which met its demise with the modernization of Japan.[8]

Rose acquired these prints from a Japanese friend, R. Kita, in 1934 although the current display of the three prints dates to 1947. In Rose’s records only the two Hiroshige prints are specified and there is a third unnamed print. A previous museum caretaker at the Nichols House Museum, William Pear, did some investigation into the framing of these three prints and found that the framer, Carl E. Nelson, framed all three of these prints and was out of business by 1947. This is the year we have records of the current arrangement of the prints and so it is likely that the third unnamed print in Rose’s records is the Toyokuni print since all three prints were framed by Nelson.

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Rose Standish Nichols’ bedroom, 1965.

While Rose’s set of Japanese wood block prints is limited to three, there are more prints to be seen in Boston this month. The MFA’s exhibition of ukiyo-e prints from the Edo Period entitled “Showdown! Kuniyoshi vs. Kunisada” has just opened.

By Olivia Reed, Summer 2017 Administrative Intern

[1] “The Edo Period in Japanese History.” Victoria and Albert Museum. 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-edo-period-in-japanese-history/.

[2] Department of Asian Art. “Woodblock Prints in the Ukiyo-e Style.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 2003. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ukiy/hd_ukiy.htm.

[3] Department of Asian Art. “Art of the Pleasure Quarters and the Ukiyo-e Style.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 2004. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/plea/hd_plea.htm.

[4] Department of Asian Art. “Art of the Pleasure Quarters…”

[5] “Utagawa Toyokuni.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Nov 01, 2007. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Utagawa-Toyokuni.

6] “Hiroshige.” Ronin Gallery. Accessed August 15, 2017. http://www.roningallery.com/artists/hiroshige?p=2.

[7] William H. Pear II, Museum Inventory Memo, Nichols House Museum.

[8] Department of Asian Art. “Art of the Pleasure Quarters…”

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Reading with Rose, Romeo, and Rosalind

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

NPG 1; William Shakespeare attributed to John Taylor
William Shakespeare, associated with John Taylor. National Portrait Gallery, London. One of few portraits claimed to be painted from life.

Whether you’ve been to see Commonwealth Shakespeare’s production of Romeo & Juliet on the Common, or threw away your high school copy of that legendary tragedy, chances are you are familiar with the Bard. This month’s Reading with Rose blog post explores the Bard through his works in Rose Standish Nichols’ library: As You Like It, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo & Juliet.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was the author of at least 38 plays and 150 poems. In the centuries following his death, he became one of–if not the–most revered writer in the English language. Shakespeare wrote As You Like It between 1599 and 1600; he followed up with Hamlet; Romeo & Juliet some four or five years prior. [1] Rose Nichols’ copies of these plays can be seen in the upper right corner of the bookshelf on the third floor landing, not far from Rose’s bedroom.

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Front of postcard showing Shakespeare’s garden from Rose Standish Nichols’ postcard collection.
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Back of postcard showing Shakespeare’s garden from Rose Standish Nichols’ postcard collection. The handwritten notes appear to describe the landscape design of the garden.

Although these works are grouped together on the third-floor landing, they are quite different thematically. As You Like It is a comedy featuring one of Shakespeare’s most enduring heroines, Rosalind, who wins the heart of her beloved while disguised in men’s clothes. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play, ultimately about a son grieving the loss of his father. Romeo & Juliet, perhaps his most well-known play, presents the romantic tragedy of two star-crossed lovers whose families are bitter enemies. Of these three plays, only As You Like It was first published in the First Folio in 1623. Hamlet first appeared as a quarto in 1603; Romeo & Juliet as a quarto in 1597. Rose also owned a copy of Macbeth–about witchcraft, murder, and prophecies–inscribed 1887; it is stored in the museum’s archives as it is too fragile to sit on an open shelf. Along with As You Like It, Macbeth was first published in the First Folio. [2]

 

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Detail from RSN’s copy of Macbeth. Handwritten notes.

 

 

 

Rose’s copies of these four plays are inscribed between 1887 and 1899. They were published in New York by Harper & Brothers Publishers in 1887, and edited by William J. Rolfe, a former headmaster of “the high school, Cambridge, Mass.” Given that Rose’s copies of these plays have handwritten notes in them, it is possible to conjecture that Rose studied these plays while in high school. Rose and her sisters attended Mrs. Shaw’s School, which, according to her sister Margaret Nichols Shurcliff, had the capacity to teach enrolled students at all levels: “the boys and girls who attended could be carried from the kindergarten age straight through to college.”[3]

Rose kept a diary from 1896 to 1922, now housed in Harvard’s Houghton Library. In one entry, the writer reminisces on seeing Hamlet performed in London. It is unclear whether Rose herself is the writer, or if it was a friend or relative; Rose transcribed family correspondence in her diary. Whether Rose or a friend, the writer fondly remembers seeing the play: “as I grow older the
greatness of Shakespeare looms higher and higher every word every line is so deep, so true […].”[4]

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Ethel Barrymore by Burr McIntosh, 1901.

If you’ve visited the museum, you know that our matriarch Rose was a very studious and intellectual woman. We spend our time in the second-floor parlor discussing her numerous discussion-based activities, most of which were tea parties attended by some well-known local and international figures. This week, while researching Shurcliff family history (Rose’s youngest sister Margaret married Arthur Shurcliff in 1905), I came across a fortuitous nugget of information. In an oral history interview, Rose’s niece Elizabeth Lowell (Mrs. Francis Cabot Lowell) reminisces on some of “Aunt Rose’s” famous tea parties, including some famous guests. According to Elizabeth, actress Ethel Barrymore attended one of these parties. [5] An Academy Award nominee in 1944, Barrymore portrayed Juliet on stage in 1922; years before this production, Barrymore was offered a job by Ellen Terry, the leading Shakespearean actress of her time.[6]

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Postcard of Shakespeare’s Garden from Rose Standish Nichols’ postcard collection.

Be it by school, personal preference, or coincidental celebrity, the connection between the Bard and one Miss Rose Standish Nichols is an unexpected pleasure.

Notes

[1] Folger Shakespeare Library. “Shakespeare’s Work’s.” Folger Shakespeare Library. n.d. Web. 6 August 2017.                                                                                                                           [2] Ibid.                                                                                                                                                 [3] Shurcliff, Margaret Homer. Lively Days: Some Memoirs of Margaret Homer Shurcliff. Literature House, Ltd., 1965.                                                                                              [4] Rose Standish Nichols Papers, 1877-1922 (MS Am 2656). Houghton Library, Harvard University.                                                                                                                                            [5] “Conversation with Mrs. Francis Cabot Lowell,” Nichols House Museum Archives.      [6] “Obituary: Ethel Barrymore is Dead at 79,” 19 June 1959, New York Times. and Michael R. Booth, ‘Terry, Dame Ellen Alice (1847–1928)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011.

By Victoria Johnson, Visitor Services and Research Associate.

 

 

Collecting and Connecting: The Nichols Family Photo Albums

 

 

Bound in aging, embossed leather are three photograph albums owned by Elizabeth Fisher (Homer) Nichols, her husband Arthur Howard Nichols, and his uncle Charles Nichols.  Collectively they contain nearly 150 photographs, dating as far back as 1862, though it’s possible some are older.  These albums both preserve the Nichols’ families social connections and their participation in album-making, a craft that exploded in the U.S. and Europe with the commercialization of photography through the cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards.[i]

The majority of the photographs in the Nichols family’s albums are cartes-de-visite or cabinet cards. Cartes-de-visite, first patented in France by Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854, were small photographs printed on paper and mounted on thick stock cards.  Generally small, a finished carte-de-visite was usually 2.5-by-4 inches.  Within 15 years, cartes-de-visite were replaced in popularity by cabinet cards, which were of similar construction but slightly larger (4.25-by-6.5 inches).  They were cheap to make and buy, easy to mail, and easy to collect.[ii]

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Photograph of Mrs. R. H. Howes, taken at the studio of J. T. Silva in San Francisco, CA.  Hers is the 41st photograph in Charles Nichols’ photograph album.

 

With the popularization of cartes and cabinet cards came the advent of the photograph album.  Though albums were commonly used to collect, organize, and store letters and trinkets prior to the advent of photography, the standardization of photograph sizes and their widespread availability led to the manufacturing of albums specifically made to hold cartes and cabinet cards.  Photograph albums were usually leather-bound, embossed, with metal clasps and gold leaf on the pages.  Their structure mimicked those of Bibles since, in large part, they began to function in much the way that the family Bible once did: as a central record of a family’s history and social connections.[iii]

 

For the Nichols family, having their photographs taken was a part of the process of maintaining their place as members of Boston society.  Cartes and cabinet photographs were pointedly uniform in style and subject positioning.  They were almost always of one or two people, positioned at the center of the photograph and against a plain background, and turned slightly to the side.  This style was meant to imitate traditional portraiture, and it was important to the subjects of the photographs that they did; having one’s portrait taken was a way of signaling one’s financial and social success, as well as the quality of one’s intellect and character.[iv]

Many of the photographs in the three albums were taken at the studios of John Adams Whipple (pioneer of astronomical and night photography) on Winter Street, and George K. Warren, the inventor of the photo-illustrated year-book.[v]  Arthur Howard Nichols’ photo album is likely one of these early yearbooks.  The album holds 58 photographs of Harvard College students and professors, most of which were taken at George K. Warren’s Cambridgeport studio.  Those that are dated are all from 1862, the year he graduated.

 

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John Adams Whipple’s studio on the corner of Temple and Washington Streets, Boston, MA.

 

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Inscription written on the first page of Arthur Nichols’ photograph album.

“Album belonging to Arthur Howard Nichols (Grandfather of Sarah S. Ingelfinger and of her 5 sibling Shurcliffs) AHN graduated from Harvard College and from the Harvard Medical School.  He was the only surviving child (son) of John Perkins Nichols and Marian Clarke Nichols.  AHN (MD) married Elizabeth Fisher Homer.  They had 4 children! Rose Standish Nichols, Marian Clarke Nichols, Sidney Nichols (died at age 5) and Margaret Homer Nichols (married Arthur Shurcliff in 1905). “

Photographs were not simply a quick replacement for traditional portraits; rather, they helped friends and family stay connected in an era of rapid economic and technological change.  Improvements in technologies related to long-distance travel, especially the steam engine, stretched families across the globe and often made face-to-face contact impossible.  Photographs, however, could help bridge the gap.[vi]

A number of photographs in the Nichols family collection originate from far-flung locations.  Multiple photographs of Mrs. Caroline Davenport and Mrs. Mary Ann Estabrook, for example, were taken in William M. Shews’ studio in San Francisco, CA.  Another photograph, this one of Elizabeth Ridgeway, was taken in Munich, Germany.  One photograph, of a Mrs. Sissy R. Drake, was taken in Boston but is inscribed with a brief sketch of Mrs. Drake’s life, a story that takes her all the way to Bombay, India, as a missionary.

 

 

“Miꝭs Sissy R. Drake 31.  Received Nov 9th, 1875.  

Sailed Nov. 6th Sat. Steamer.  City of Berlin–[illegible] line for Liverpool

England on her to Bombay India–

Direct to the care of Rev. Charles Harding Bombay India–Via Brindisi–Faith mission

Home Stoughton Maꝭs. Deaconess at Dr. Chas. Cultis’ [illegible] Home at Grove Hall – Boston Mass.

Married to Rev. Osborn Nov. 22 1879 Bombay India”

The albums as whole objects likewise demonstrate this connectivity.  The album belonging to Charles Nichols, for example, was given to him as a gift by the Pleasant Street Church in New Bedford, N.H.  Charles Nichols, who himself had worked in several daguerreotype galleries, ultimately devoted his life to religious study and missionary work, though it is unclear what his precise connection to the Pleasant Street Church was.

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Inscription on the second page of Charles Nichol’s photograph album.

“A Present to Chas. Nichols by the converts of the Pleasant St. Church New Bedford.  Jany 2, 1865.”

Eventually, the three albums were passed down to Margaret Homer Nichols, youngest daughter of Elizabeth and Arthur Nichols, and from her it went to one of her daughters, who ultimately gifted the albums to the Nichols House Museum.  The albums acted, for the family members who owned them, as physical proofs of their connections to friends and family, and still serve to preserve those social connections to this day.

[i]Patrizia Di Bello, Women’s Albums and Photography in Victorian England: Ladies, Mothers, and Flirts (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016): 29-35.

[ii]  Geoffrey Batchen, “Chapter 5: Dreams of ordinary life: Cartes-de-visite and the bourgeois imagination,” in Photography: Theoretical Shots, edited by J.J. Long, Andrea Noble, Edward Welch (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009): 80-85.

[iii] Risto Sarvas and David M. Frohlich, From Snapshots to Social Media – The Changing Picture of Domestic Photography (London: Springer Science & Business Media, 2011): 36-38

[iv] Batchen, “Dreams of ordinary life,” 81-82.

[v] “John Adams Whipple,” Smithsonian American Art Museum, accessed July 15, 2017, http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artist/?id=6760; “George K. Warren,” University of South Carolina, accessed July 15, 2017, http://broadway.cas.sc.edu/node/982.

[vi] Sarvas and Frohlich, From Snapshots to Social Media, 40-42.

 

By Jasmine Bonanca, Intern at the Nichols House Museum.