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Aizuri-e or Japanese Blue Pictures

Azure, sapphire, cobalt. Blue traditionally has been one of the most precious colors in paintings. Ultramarine was derived from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli that had to be ground into a powder. The discovery in 1830 of a synthetic blue hue called Prussian Blue changed the art world, and it had a major impact on Japanese woodblock printing. Series of aizuri-e, blue pictures, became popular. Rendered in vivid blue, they captured landscapes, fashionable ladies, and city scenes. They are among my favorite Japanese woodblock prints for their l’heure bleue quality that lends itself to reveries.

Take a look at the print above, Kinryuzan Temple in Asakusa from the series “Famous Places in the Eastern Capital” by Hiroshige II. The striking use of red and blue creates an elegant effect, with the temple and the pagoda standing out prominently against a blue-shaded landscape. The small figures of passersby are sketched out just enough to give a sense of movement and a lively atmosphere. The splashes of deep blue on trees and the tops of the clouds create a color accent that adds more complexity to the composition. The feeling is of a majestic and mysterious place.

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