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U K I Y O -  E

Art of the Floating World

(Left) "The Actor Jitsukawa." Shunsen Natori 1926.
Natori was just one of the artists from the 1900's who helped usher in a revival of the floating world style. Here, a Kabuki actor is the artist's subject.

To view other artworks, simply click on the links below.

 

In Japan the ancient popular medium of the woodcut was raised to the dignity of great Art at the turn of the 19th century by masterful and visionary artists. These artists focused on the denizens of the "pleasure quarters" as the subjects of their artworks. Geisha, Kabuki Actors, Sumo Wrestlers and other notables... as well as the rendering of mythic tales and ghost stories... all became the subject matter of the artists of the Ukiyo-e.

Ukiyo-e (or, "pictures of the floating world"), celebrated the ordinary scenes of daily life in the pleasure quarters...namely entertainment and leisure. It was a bold move for artists to portray courtesans and Kabuki Actors, classes thought to be vulgar and parasitic by the feudal government, and almost two thirds of all Ukiyo-e prints were to deal with such subjects.

The prints of the Ukiyo-e artists are not only incredible triumphs of design and composition unparalleled in the history of art, but they also provide an accurate pictorial record of a way of life long disappeared. The big cities of Edo, Kyoto, Osaka and many others were pictured along with their inns, street scenes and famous personages. Master artists like Utamaro, Hokusai, Yoshitoshi, Sharaku, and Hiroshige would leave us with a stunning visual record of old Japan.

Artworks listed
by name of artist.
Hokusai
Hokusai
Hokusai
Yoshitoshi
Ito
Ito
Utamaro
Utamaro
Kunimasa
Eisho

The prints of the Ukiyo-e artists are not only incredible triumphs of design and composition unparalleled in the history of art, but they also provide an accurate pictorial record of a way of life long disappeared. The big cities of Edo, Kyoto, Osaka and many others were pictured along with their inns, street scenes and famous personages. Master artists like Utamaro, Hokusai, Yoshitoshi, Sharaku, and Hiroshige would leave us with a stunning visual record of old Japan.

Japan was not opened to the West until 1854, and only after that did Europeans become aware of the wondrous woodblock prints produced by the Ukiyo-e masters. During the 19th century European artists broke away from the dogma of representing "things as they are seen", and this is partly due to their exposure to Japanese artwork. European artists were so inspired by the Floating World style that they attempted to integrate it into their own.

The Impressionists saw in Japanese works proof positive that you could dispense with perspective and detail, yet still create evocative images. Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, to name but a few, were all inspired by the Japanese masters of the Ukiyo-e. The painter Claude Monet praised Japanese art as having a quality that "evokes presence by means of a shadow, the whole by means of a fragment."

 
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