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The Ukiyo-e genre of woodblock prints and paintings flourished in Japan primarily from the 17th to 19th centuries. Aimed at the prosperous merchant class in the urbanizing Edo period (1603–1867), depictions of beautiful women, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, scenes from history and folk tales, travel scenes, landscapes, and erotica were amongst the more popular themes.
Edo (modern Tokyo) was chosen as the seat of government by the military dictatorship in the early 17th century. The merchant class at the bottom of the social order found themselves the greatest beneficiaries of the city's rapid economic growth. Many indulged in the entertainments of kabuki theatre, courtesans, and geisha of the pleasure districts. The term ukiyo ("floating world"; 浮世) came to describe this hedonistic lifestyle. Printed images of this, or "ukiyo-e" ("pictures of the floating world"; 浮世絵; Japanese pronunciation: [u.ki.jo.e]), emerged in the late 17th century from the bookprinting world, and were popular with the merchant class who were now wealthy enough that they could afford to decorate their homes with such works.
In the 1670s Hishikawa Moronobu was the earliest success with his paintings and monochromatic prints of beautiful women. Colour prints came gradually—at first, added by hand only for special commissions. By the 1740s, artists such as Okumura Masanobu used multiple woodblocks to print areas of colour. From the 1760s the success of Suzuki Harunobu's full-colour nishiki-e prints led to colour as a standard, each print made with ten or more colour blocks. The peak period in terms of quantity and quality was marked by portraits by masters such as Torii Kiyonaga, Utamaro, and Sharaku in the late 18th century. This peak was followed in the 19th century by a pair of masters: the bold formalist Hokusai, and the serene, atmospheric Hiroshige, who are best remembered for their landscapes. Following their deaths, and especially following the technological and social modernization that followed the Meiji Restoration of 1868, ukiyo-e production went into steep decline.
Some ukiyo-e artists specialized in making paintings, but most works were prints. Artists rarely carved their own woodblocks for printing; rather, production was divided between the artist who designed the prints; the carver who cut the woodblocks; the printer who inked and pressed the woodblocks onto hand-made paper; and the publisher, who financed, promoted, and distributed the works. As printing was done by hand printers were able to achieve effects impractical with machines, such as embossing or the blending or gradation of colours on the printing block.
Ukiyo-e was central to forming the West's perception of Japanese art in the late 19th century, especially the landscapes of Hokusai and Hiroshige. From the 1870s Japonism became a prominent trend and had a strong influence on the early Impressionists such as Degas, Manet, and Monet; Post-Impressionists such as van Gogh; and Toulouse-Lautrec and other Art Nouveau artists. The 20th century saw a revival in Japanese printmaking: the shin-hanga ("new prints") genre capitalized on Western interest in prints of traditional Japanese scenes, while the sōsaku-hanga ("creative prints") movement promoted works designed, carved, and printed by a single pair of hands. Prints since the late 20th century have continued in an individulaist vein, and have been made with techniques imported from the West as well, such as screen printing, etching, mezzotint, and mixed media.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Pre-history
- 1.2 Emergence of ukiyo-e (late 17th – early 18th centuries)
- 1.3 Colour prints (mid-18th century)
- 1.4 Peak period (late 18th century)
- 1.5 Late flowering: flora, fauna, and landscapes (19th century)
- 1.6 Decline (late 19th century)
- 1.7 Introduction to the West
- 1.8 Daughter traditions (20th century)
- 2 Style
- 3 Production
- 4 Collection and preservation
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Since antiquity, Japanese art had found patrons in the aristocracy, military governments, and religious authorities.1 Until the 16th century, the lives of the common people had not been subject to the painters, and even when they did find their way into genre paintings, they were luxury items made for the ruling samurai and rich merchant classes.2 Later appeared works by and for an audience of townspeople, inexpensive monochromatic paintings of beautiful women, and scenes of the theatre and pleasure districts. The hand-produced nature of these shikomi-e limited the scale of their production, a limit that was soon overcome by genres that turned to mass-produced woodblock printing.3
Woodblock printing in Japan traces back to the Hyakumantō Darani in 770 CE. Until the 17th century, such printing served for producing Buddhist seals and images.4 Moveable type appeared around 1600, but as the Japanese writing system required about 100 000 type pieces, hand-carving text onto woodblocks was found to be more efficient. In Saga Domain, Honami Kōetsu and Suminokura Soan combined printed text and images in an adaptation of The Tales of Ise (1608) and other books of literature.5 During the Kan'ei era (1624–1623) illustrated books of folk tales called tanrokubon, or "orange-green books", were the first books to be mass-produced using woodblock printing.4 Woodblock imagery continued to evolve as illustrations to the kanazōshi genre of tales of hedonistic urban life in the new capital of Edo (modern Tokyo).6 The rebuilding of Edo following the Great Fire of Meireki in 1657 occasioned a modernization of the city, and the publication of illustrated printed books flourished in the rapidly urbanizing environment.7
Following a prolonged period of civil war in the 16th century, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616)was appointed Shōgun with supreme power over Japan. He consolidated his government in the village of Edo, and required the territorial lords to assemble there with their entourages; the village grew during the Edo period (1603–1867) from a population of 1 800 to in excess of a million in the 19th century.8 Japanese society was divided into four social classes, with the ruling samurai class at the top and the merchant class at the bottom. The merchant class most benefited from the rapidly expanding economy,9 and their improved lot allowed for leisure that many sought in the pleasure districts—in particular Yoshiwara8—and in collecting artworks to decorate their homes, which in earlier times had been well beyond their finacial means.10
The term "ukiyo",a which can be translated as "floating world", was homphonous with a ancient Buddhist term signifying "this world of sorrow and grief".b The newer term at times was used to mean "erotic" or "stylish", amongst other meanings, and came to describe the hedonistic spirit of the time for the lower classes, celebrated in the novel Ukiyo monogatari ("Tales of the Floating World", c. 1661) by Asai Ryōi:11
"... living only for the moment, savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking sake, and diverting oneself just in floating, unconcerned by the prospect of imminent poverty, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current: this is what we call ukiyo."
The earliest ukiyo-e artists were painters before they were printmakers. Around 1661, hanging scrolls painted with images known as Portraits of Kanbun Beauties gained popularity.12 The paintings of the Kanbun era era (1661–73), most of which are anonymous, marked the beginnings of ukiyo-e as an independent school.
In response to the increasing demand for ukiyo-e works, Hishikawa Moronobu (1618–1694) produced the first ukiyo-e woodblock prints.12 Moronobu was the first of the book illustrators to achieve such prominence that, by 1672, he could sign his name to his work. Moronobu was a prolific illustrator who worked in a wide variety of genres, and developed an influential style of portraying beautiful women. Most significant, he began to produce illustrations not for books, but as single-sheet images, which could stand alone or as part of a series. The Hishikawa school attracted a large number of followers,13 as well as imitators such as Sugimura Jihei,14 and signaled the beginning of the popularization of a new artform.15
Torii Kiyonobu I and Kaigetsudō Ando became prominent emulators of Moronobu's style following the master's death, though neither was a member of the Hishikawa school. Both discarded background detail in favour of focus on the human figure—kabuki actors in the yakusha-e of Kiyonobu and the Torii school that followed him,16 and courtesans in the bijin-ga of Ando and his Kaigetsudō school. Ando and his followers produced a stereotyped female image whose set design and pose lent itself to effective mass production,17 and its popularity created a demand for paintings that other artists schools took advantage of.18 The Kaigetsudō school and its "Kaigetsudō beauty" it popularized came to an end after Ando's exile over his role in the Ejima-Ikushima scandal of 1714.19 Kyoto native Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671–1750) painted technically refined pictures of courtesans.20
Considered a master of erotic portraits, he was the subject of a government ban in 1722, though works believed to be his continued to circulate under different names.21 Sukenobu spent most of his career in Edo, and his influence was considerable in both the Kantō and Kansai regions.20
The paintings of Miyagawa Chōshun (1683–1752) portrayed early 18th-century life in delicate colours. Chōshun made no prints.22 The Miyagawa school he founded in the early-18th century specialized in romantic paintings in style more refined in line and colour than the Kaigetsudō school. Chōshun allowed greater expressive freedom in his adherents, a group that later included Hokusai.18
Even in the earliest, monochromatic prints and books, colour was added by hand for special commissions. Demand for colour in the early-18th century was met with tan-ec prints hand-tinted with orange and sometimes green or yellow.24 These were followed in the 1720s with a vogue for pink-tinted beni-e,d and later the lacquer-like ink of the urushi-e. In 1744, the benizuri-e were the first successes in colour printing, using multiple woodblocks—one for each colour, at first beni pink and vegetable green.25
A great self-promoter, Okumura Masanobu (1686–1764) played a major role during the period of rapid technical development in printing from the late-17th to mid-18th centuries.25 He established a shop in 1707,26 and combined elements of the major contemporary schools in a wide array of genres, though Masanobu himself belonged to no school. Amongst the innovations in his romantic, lyrical images was the introduction of Western-style perspective in the uki-e genre;e the long, narrow hashira-e prints; and the combination of graphics and literature in prints that included self-penned haiku poetry.29
Ukiyo-e reached a peak in the late 17th century with the advent of full-colour prints, developed after Edo returned to prosperity under Tanuma Okitsugu after a long depression.30 These popular colour prints came to be called nishiki-e, or "brocade pictures", as their brilliant colours seemed to bear resemblance to imported Chinese Shuchiang brocades, known in Japanese as Shokkō nishiki.31
The delicate, romantic prints of Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770) were some of the earliest successes to make expressive use of colour,32 printed with up to a dozen separate plates to handle the different colours33 and half-tones.34 His restrained, graceful prints invoked the classicism of waka poetry and yamato-e painting. Harunobu's was prolific, and the dominant ukiyo-e artist of his time.35 The success of Harunobu's colourful nishiki-e from 1765 on led to a steep decline in demand for the limited palettes of benizuri-e and urushi-e, as well as for hand-coloured prints.33
A trend against the idealism of the prints of Harunobu and the Torii school grew following Harunobu's death in 1770. Katsukawa Shunshō (1726–1793) and his school produced portraits of kabuki actors with greater fidelity to the actors' actual features than had been the trend.36 Sometime-collaborators Koryūsai (1735–c. 1790) and Kitao Shigemasa (1739–1820) were prominent depictors of women who also moved ukiyo-e away from the dominance of Harunobu's idealism by focusing on contemporary urban fashions and celebrated real-world courtesans and geisha.37 The Kitao school that Shigemasa founded was one of the dominant schools of the closing decades of the 18th century.38
The late 18th century—in particular the Kansei era (1789–1791)—saw a peak flowering of Ukiyo-e in quantity and quality.39 The period of Kansei Reforms brought about a focus on beuaty and harmony38 that collapsed into decadence and disharmony in the next century as the reforms broke down and tensions rose, culminating in the Meiji Restoration of 1868.39
Especially in the 1780s, Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815)38 of the Torii school39 returned ukiyo-e to its focus on beauties and urban scenes, and were printed on large sheets of paper, often as multiprint horizontal diptychs or triptychs. His works dispensed with the poetic dreamscapes of Harunobu's, opting instead for realistic depictions of idealized female forms posed in scenic locations.38 the women in the latest fashions.40 He also produced portraits of kabuki actors, in a realistic style that included the accompanying members of the stage such as the musicians and chorus.41 Chōbunsai Eishi (ja) (1756–1815) was among Kiyonaga's followers, and also produced scenes of beauties in beautiful scenery.39
Utamaro (c. 1753–1806) made his name in the 1790s with his bijin ōkubi-e ("large-headed pictures of beautiful women"), portraits focusing on the head and upper torso, a style others had previously employed in portraits of kabuki actors.42 Utamaro experimented with line, colour, and printing techniques to bring out subtle differences in the features, expressions, and backdrops of subjects from a wide variety of class and background. Utamaro's individuated beauties were in sharp contrast to the stereotyped, idealized images that had been the norm.43 By the end of the decade, especially following the death of his patron Tsutaya Jūzaburō in 1797, Utamaro's prodigious output declined in quality.44
Appearing suddenly in 1794 and disappearing just as suddenly ten months later, the prints of the enigmatic Sharaku are amongst ukiyo-e's best known. Sharaku produced striking portraits of kabuki actors, introducing a greater level of realism into his prints that emphasized the differences between the actor and the character portrayed.45 The expresive, contorted faces he depicted contrasted sharply with the serene, even mask-like faces more common to artists such as Harunobu or Utamaro.34 Sharaku's work found resistance, and in 1795 he disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared, and his identitied is yet unknown.46 Utagawa Toyokuni (1769–1825) produced kabuki portraits in a style Edo townsfolk found more accessible, emphasizing dramatic postures and avoiding Sharaku's realism.45
Edo was the primary centre of ukiyo-e production throughout the Edo period. The so-called Kamigata region comprising the areas in and around Kyoto and Osaka was another major centre of production. In contrast to the range of usbjects in the Edo prints, those of Kamigata tended to be portraits of kabuki actors. The style of the Kamigata prints was little distinguished from those of Edo until the late 18th century, partly because artists often moved back and forth between the two areas.47 Colours tend to be softer and pigments thicker in Kamigata prints than in Edo.48
Landscapes had been given limited attention since Moronobu, and formed an important element in the works of Kiyonaga and Shuncho. It was not until late in the Edo period that landscape came into its own as a genre, especially via the works of Hokusai and Hiroshige. The landscape genre has come to define ukiyo-e for Western audiences, though ukiyo-e had a long history preceding these late-era masters.49 The Japanese landscape differed from the Western tradition in that it relied more heavily on imagination, composition, and atmosphere than on strict observance of nature.50
The self-proclaimed "mad painter" Hokusai (1760–1849) enjoyed a long, varied career. His work is marked by a lack of the sentimentality common to ukiyo-e, and a focus on formalism influenced by Western art. Amongst his accomplishments are his illustrations of Takizawa Bakin's novel Crescent Moon (ja), his series of sketchbooks, the Hokusai Manga, and his popularization the landscape genre with Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,51 which includes his best-known print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.citation needed In contrast to the work of the older masters, Hokusai's colours were bold, flat, and abstract, and his subject was not the pleaure districts but the lives and environment of the common people at work.52 Hokusai had several prolific students such as Hokkei53 and Yashima Gakutei54 who both produced several landscapes prints and surimono.55 Established masters Eisen, Kuniyoshi, and Kunisada also followed Hokusai's steps into landscape prints in the 1830s, producing prints with bold compositions and striking effects.56
Hiroshige (1797–1858) is considered Hokusai's greatest rival in stature. He specialized in pictures of birds and flowers, and serene landscapes, and is best known for his travel series, such as The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō and The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō.57 His work was more realistic, subtly coloured, and atmospheric than Hokusai's; nature and the seasons were key elements: mist, rain, snow, and moonlight were prominent parts of his compositions.58 Hiroshige's followers, including adopted son Hiroshige II and son-in-law Hiroshige III carried on their master's style of landscapes into the Meiji era.59
The Tenpō Reforms of 1841–43 sought to suppress outward displays of luxury, inlcuding the depiction of courtesans and actors. Many ukiyo-e artists turned at this time to travel scenes and pictures of nature, especially of birds and flowers.60
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Following the deaths of Hokusai and Hiroshige,61 and the Meiji Restoration of 1868, ukiyo-e suffered a sharp decline in quantity and quality.62 The rapid Westernization of the Meiji period that followed saw woodblock printing turn its services to journalism, and face competition from photography. Practitioners of pure ukiyo-e became more rare, and tastes turned away from a genre seen as a remnant of an obsolescant era.61 Artists continued to produce occasional notable works, but by the 1890s the tradition was moribund.63
Synthetic pigments imported from Germany began to replace traditional organic ones in the mid-19th century. Many prints from this era made extensive use of a bright red, and were called aka-e ("red pictures").64 Artists such as Yoshitoshi (1839–1892) led a trend in the 1860s of gruesome scenes of murders and ghosts. Kiyochika (1847–1915) is known for his prints documenting the rapid changes taking place in modernizing Tokyo, such as the introduction of railways; and his depictions of the wars Japan fought with China and with Russia.65
Aside from Dutch traders, who had had trading relations dating to the beginning of the Edo period,66 Westerners paid little notice to Japanese art before the mid-19th century, and when they did rarely distinguished it from other art from the East.66 The arrival in Edo of Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1853 led to the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854, which opened Japan to the outside world after over two centuries of seclusion. Ukiyo-e prints were amongst the items he brought back to the United States.67 Such prints had appeared in Paris from at least the 1830s, and by the 1850s were numerous;68 reception was mixed, and even when praised ukiyo-e was generally thought inferior to Western works and their emphasis on mastery of naturalistic perspective and anatomy.69 Japanese art drew notice at the International Exhibition of 1867 in Paris,66 and became fashionable in France and England in the 1870s and 1880s.66 The prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige played a prominent role in shaping Western perceptions of Japanese art.70 At the time of their introduction to the West, woodblock printing was the most common mass medium in Japan, and the Japanese considered it of little lasting value.71
Early Europeans promoters and scholars of Ukiyoe-e and Japanese art included writer Edmond de Goncourt, art critic Philippe Burty (fr)72—who coined the term "Japonism"73f—and art dealer Siegfried Bing, who from 1888 to 1891 published the magazine Artistic Japan (fr)74 in English, French, and German editions.75 Amercian Ernest Fenollosa was the earliest Wetern devotee of Japanese culture, and did much to promote Japanese art—Hokusai was the star of his inaugural exhibition as first curator of Japanese art Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and in Tokyo in 1898 he curated the first ukiyo-e exhibition in Japan.76 By the end of the 19th century the popularity of ukiyo-e in the West drove prices beyond the means of most collectors—some such as Degas traded their own paintings for such prints. Tadamasa Hayashi was a prominent Paris-based dealer of respected tastes whose Tokyo office was responsible for evaluating and exporting large quantites of ukiyo-e prints to the West—such quantities that Japanese critics have accused him of draining Japan of its national treasure.77
Japanese art, and particularly ukiyo-e prints, came to influence early Impressionist painters.78 John LaFarge,79 Manet and Whistler were early collectors who incorporated Japanese themes and compositional techniques into thir paintings as early as the 1860s.68 Degas, Monet,78 Mary Cassatt, and Toulouse-Lautrec were amongst the artists taken in by Japonism.74 Van Gogh was an avid collector, and painted copies in oil of prints by Hiroshige and Keisai Eisen.80 In the 20th century Imagist poets such as Amy Lowell found inspiration in ukiyo-e prints—Lowell in 1919 published a book of poetry called Pictures of the Floating World on oriental themes or in an oriental style.81
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The travel sketchbook became a popular genre beginning about 1905, as the Meiji government promoted travel within Japan to have citizens better know their country.82 In 1915 publisher Shōzaburō Watanabe introduced the term shin-hanga ("new prints") to describe a style of prints he published that featured traditional Japanese subject matter and were aimed at foreign and upscale Japanese audiences.83 Prominent artists included Goyō Hashiguchi, called the "Utamaro of the Taishō period" for his manner of depicting women; Shinsui Itō, who brought more modern sensibilities to images of women;84 and Hasui Kawase, who made modern landscapes.85 Watanabe also published works by non-Japanese artists, an early succes of which was a set of Indian- and Japanese-themed prints in 1916 by the English Charles W. Bartlett (1860–1940). Other publishers followed Watanabe's success, and some shin-hanga artists such as Goyō and Hiroshi Yoshida set up studios to publish their own work.86
Artists of the sōsaku-hanga ("creative prints") movement took control of every aspect of the printmaking process—design, carving, and printing were by the same pair of hands.83 The foundation of the Japanese Woodcut Artists' Association in 1918 marks the beginning of this movement.87 The movement favoured the individuality in its artists, and as such has no dominant themes or styles.88 Works ranged from the entirely abstract ones of Kōshirō Onchi (1891–1955) to the traditional figurative depictions of Japanese scenes of Un'ichi Hiratsuka (1895–1997).87 These artists produced prints not because they hoped to reach a mass audience, but as a creative end in itself, and did not restrict their print media to the woodblock of traditional ukiyo-e.89
Prints from the late-20th and 21st centuries have evolved from the concerns of earlier movements, especially the sōsaku-hanga movement's emphasis on individual expression. Screen printing, etching, mezzotint, mixed media, and other Western methods have joined traditional woodcutting amongst the printmaker's techniques.90
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The earlier ukiyo-e artists brought with them a sophisticated knowledge of and training in the composition principals of classical Chinese painting; gradually these artists shed the overt Chinese influence to develop a native Japanese idiom. The early ukiyo-e artists have been called "Primitives" in the sense that the print medium was a new challenge to which they adapted these centuries-old techniques—their image designs are not considered "primitive".91
A defining feature of most ukiyo-e prints is a well defined, bold, flat line.92 The earliest prints were monochromatic, and these lines were the only printed element; even with the advent of colour this characteristic line continued to dominate.93 Compostion is noted for the arrangement of forms in flat spaces.94 In colour prints contours of most colour areas are sharply defined, usually by the linework.95 The aesthetic of flat areas of colour contrasts with the modulated colours expected in Western traditions,94 and with other prominent contemporary traditions in Japanese art, such as in the subtle monochrome ink brushstrokes of zenga brush painting or tonal colours of the Kanō school of painting, works patronized by the upper class.95
Figures in ukiyo-e compositions were typically arranged in a single plane of depth. Attention was drawn to veritcal and horizontal relationships, as well as details such as lines, shapes, and patterns such as those on clothing.96
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Typical subjects were female beauties, kabuki actors, and landscapes. The women depicted were most often courtesans and geisha at leisure, and promoted the entertainments to be found in the pleasure districts.97 Portraits of celebrities were much in demand, in particular those from the kabuki and sumo worlds, two of the most popular entertainments of the era.98 While the landscape has come to define ukiyo-e for many Westerners, the genre flourished relatively late in the history of ukiyo-e.49
Ukiyo-e grew out of book illustration—many of Moronobu's earliest single-page prints were originally pages from books he had illustrated.5 Books of illustrations were popular99 and continued be an important outlet for ukiyo-e artists—in the late period, Hokusai produced the three-volume One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji and the fifteen-volume Hokusai Manga, the latter a compendium of over 4 000 sketches of a wide variety or realistic and fantastic subjects.100
Traditional Japanese religions do not consider sex or pornography a moral corruption in the Judaeo-Christian sense,101 and until the changing morals of the Meiji era led to its suppression, shunga erotic prints were a major genre.102 Many displayed a high level a draughtsmanship, and often humour, in their explicit depictions of bedroom scenes, voyeurs, and oversized anatomy.103 Nearly every ukiyo-e master produced shunga at some point in his career.104
Scenes from nature have been an important part of Asian art throughout history. Artists have closely studied the correct forms and anatomy of plants and animals, even though depictions of human anatomy remained more fanciful until modern times. Ukiyo-e nature prints are called kachō-e, or "flower-and-bird pictures", though the genre was open to more than just flowers or birds, and the flowers in birds did not necessarily appear together.60 Hokusai's detailed, precise nature prints are credited with establishing kachō-e as a genre.105
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The earliest ukiyo-e artists were painters before they were printmakers. Around 1661, hanging scrolls painted with images known as Portraits of Kanbun Beauties gained popularity. The increasing demand for ukiyo-e works motivated Moronobu's innovation of the ukiyo-e woodblock print.12 Ukiyo-e paintings continued to be produced by many artists during the entire Edo period. These paintings are usually in the form of hanging scrolls, handscrolls, or screens. The medium is typically ink and color on either paper or silk.
Ukiyo-e prints and were the results of teams of artisans in several workshops107—it was rare for a designers to cut their own woodblocks.108 Labour was divided into four groups: the publisher, who commissioned, promoted, and distributed the prints; the artists, who provided the design image; the woodcarvers, who prepared the woodblocks for printing; and the printers, who made impressions of the woodblocks on paper.109 Normally only the names of the artist and publisher were credited on the finished print.110
Ukiyo-e prints were impressed on hand-made paper111 by hand, rather than by mechanical press as in the West,112 The artist provided an ink drawing on thin paper, which was pasted113 to a block of cherry woodg and rubbed with oil until the upper layers of paper could be pulled away, leaving a translucent layer of paper that the block-cutter could use as a guide. The block-cutter cut away the non-black areas of the image, leaving raised areas that were inked to leave an impression.107 The orignal drawing was destroyed in the process.113
Prints were made with blocks face up so the printer could vary pressure for different effects, and watch as paper absorbed the water-based sumi ink,112 applied quickly in even horizontal strokes.116 Amongst the printer's tricks were embossing of the image, achieved by pressing an uninked woodblock on the paper to achieve effects such as clothing patterns or fishing net patterns.117 Other effects included burnishing, varnishing, overprinting, dusting with metal or mica, and sprays to imitate falling snow.118
The ukiyo-e print was a commercial art form, and the publisher played an important role. The prints were mass-marketed119 and produced in editions of up to 10 000 copies,68 and promoted by retailers and traveling sellers at prices affordable to its audience119 of prosperous townspeople.68 In some cases the prints advertised kimono designs by the artist behind the print.119 In the late Edo period, Edo alone had about 200 publishers.120 Prints were frequently marketed as part of a series, each print stamped with the series name and the print's number in that series. By the 19th century, series such as Hiroshige's Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō ran to dozens of prints.121
While colour printing in Japan dates back to the 1640s, early ukiyo-e prints were in only black ink. Colour was sometimes added by hand, using a red lead ink called tan-e prints, or later in a pink safflower ink in beni-e prints. Colour printing arrived in books in the 1720s, and in single-sheet prints in the 1740s, with a different block and printing for each colour. Early colours were limited to pink and green; techniques expanded over the following two decades to allow up to five colours.107 The mid-1760s brought full-colour nishiki-e prints107 made from ten or more woodblocks.122 Registration marks called kentō were placed on one corner and an adjacent side, to keep the blocks for each colour aligned correctly.107
Printers used natural colour dyes made from mineral or vegetable sources. The dyes had a translucent quality that allowed a variety of colours to be mixed from primary red, blue, and yellow pigments. In the 18th century Prussian blue became popular, and was particularly prominent in the landscapes of Hokusai and Hiroshige.123 Also prominent in these two artists works was bokashi, where the printer produced gradations of colour or the blending one one colour into another.124 Cheaper and more consistent synthetic aniline dyes were introduced from the West in 1864. The colours were harsher and brighter than traditional pigments, and the effects could be garish. The Meiji government promoted their use as part of broader policies of Westernization.125
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Dealers normally refer to ukiyo-e prints by the names of the standard sizes, most commonly the 34.5-by-22.5-centimetre (13.6 × 8.9 in) aiban, the 22.5-by-19-centimetre (8.86 × 7.5 in) chūban, and the 38-by-23-centimetre (15 × 9.1 in) ōban124—precise sizes vary, and paper was often trimmed after printing.126
The paper and pigments in ukiyo-e paintings are sensitive to light and seasonal changes in humidity. Mounts must be flexible, as the sheets can tear under sharp changes in humidity. In the Edo era the sheets were mounted on long-fibred paper and preserved scrolled up in plain paulownia boxes placed in another lacquer wooden box.127 In museum settings, humidity must be controlled, and display times must be limited to prevent deterioration from exposure to light and environmental pollution. Scrolling causes concavities in the paper, and the unrolling and rerolling of the scrolls causes creasing.128
- ukiyo (浮世) "floating world"
- ukiyo (憂き世) "world of sorrow"
- Tan is a pigment made from red lead mixed with sulphur and saltpeter.23
- Beni is a pigment produced from safflower petals.25
- Torii Kiyotada (ja) is said to have made the first uki-e;27 Masanobu advertised himself as its innovator.28
A Layman's Explanation of the Rules of Drawing with a Compass and Ruler introduced Western-style perspective drawing to Japan in the 1734, based on a Dutch text of 1644; Chinese texts on the subject also appeared during the decade.27
- Burty coined the term le Japonisme in French in 1872.73
- Traditional Japanese woodblocks were cut along the grain, as opposed to the blocks of Western Wood engraving, which were cut across the grain. In both methods, the dimensions of the woodblock was limited by the girth of the tree.114 In the 20th century, plywood became the material of choice for Japanese woodcarvers, as it is cheaper, easier to carve, and less limited in size.115
- Kobayashi 1997, p. 66.
- Kobayashi 1997, pp. 66–67.
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- Hickey, Gary (1994). The Ukiyo-e Blues: An Analysis of the Influence of Prussian Blue on Ukiyo-e in the 1830s. University of Melbourne.
- Kanada, Margaret Miller (1989). Color Woodblock Printmaking: The Traditional Method of Ukiyo-e. Shufunomoto Company, Limited. ISBN 978-4-07-975316-6.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ukiyo-e.|
- A Guide to the Ukiyo-e Sites of the Internet
- Ukiyoe collection at Edo-Tokyo Museum
- Kuniyoshi Project
- Ukiyo-e at JAANUS (Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System)
- Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Video: Pictures of the Floating World
- Universes in Collision: Men and Women in Nineteenth Century Japanese Prints
- Hokusai Online Exhibition; Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
- The Floating World of Ukiyo-e, Library of Congress exhibition
- Ukiyo-e Techniques, an interactive collection of videos and animations demonstrating the techniques of master printmaker Keiji Shinohara.
- Ukiyo-e Caricatures 1842–1905 Database of the Department of East Asian Studies of the University of Vienna
- Biographies of over 100 Japanese print-making artists
- Japanese prints ukiyo-e
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