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Edo Art Revealed: Ukiyoe in Boston

(this article first appeared in the october 23, 2006 issue of newsweek international)

Works Long Stored in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Reach Tokyo

Though it happened a decade ago, Masato Naito vividly remembers the moment of discovery. He and fellow art scholars were studying old Japanese paintings in a research room at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Unfolding a piece of old fabric, they glimpsed a rare cotton banner bearing the portrait of Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller, the legendary Chinese figure believed to ward off evil. The piece was quickly confirmed to be the only existing banner handpainted by the renowned Edo artist Katsushika Hokusai. "We were so excited," recalls Naito, the chief curator of Tokyo's Idemitsu Museum of Arts. That wasn't the only surprise they found while studying more than 700 ukiyo-e paintings collected by a 19th-century Boston surgeon named William Bigelow, which had never been thoroughly examined before. "We didn't know of the existence of 90 percent of them," says Naito. "Those were the happiest days of my career."

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