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Snow Country: Woodcuts of the Japanese Winter

Japanese artists have long responded to an altered world of frozen forms, stilled by a blanket of snow. In woodcuts they used blank paper to convey the purifying beauty of snow in a transformed landscape where even ‘the depths of the night became white’.

Snow’s prominence in art and literature was influenced by Chinese models, but snow also shaped real life in Japan. Each winter, cold winds from Siberia blew clouds from the Sea of Japan onto the central mountain ranges, covering more than half of the country in deep drifts of snow. The area of heaviest snowfall north of the central mountains became known as ‘Snow Country’ (Yukiguni). Here mulberry fibres for papermaking were laid out on snow-bleaching fields, utilising the bleaching effect of ultra-violet light and ozone as snow melted in the sun. So the whiteness of the snow in the woodcuts was the result of snowmelt in the mountains of Snow Country.

These pages were first created to accompany an exhibition that displayed most of this selection for the first time in the Fitzwilliam Museum from 2 October 2012 to 13 January 2013.

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