Wednesday 27 November 2019


Ukiyo-e, literally meaning ‘pictures of the floating world’, is the name given to the multi-coloured woodblock prints that were exceptionally popular and affordable to the general population of Japan during the Edo period (1600–1868).

After centuries of military upheaval and hardship for the middle classes, the Edo period ushered a new era of peace and stability. People's attention turned to making money and enjoying life. The general public was inspired by a vibrant consumer culture, new fashions and recreational pursuits. A new style of theatre called Kabuki gained great popularity, and people’s interests in travel, sport and literature flourished.

To service these new passions, entrepreneurial publishers worked with leading artists and employed carvers and printers to develop an intricate multi-block/ multi-colour printing process, producing some of the most exquisite prints and illustrated books in all history. Ukiyo-e prints and e-hon printed books focused on popular subjects and were mass-produced for sale to the public.

These printed works give us a detailed window into the tastes and life styles of Edo period Japan just as magazines, posters and the Internet represent our current-day society. For example, images of Hollywood stars can be compared to Kabuki actors, movie action scenes to dramatic Japanese historical dramas, sports stars to sumo wrestlers, fashion models to bijin (beautiful woman), comic books to e-hon picture books and historical manga. Almost all the subjects of popular twenty-first century culture can find similar themes produced in Ukiyo-e prints of the Edo period.

This post is part of the Wordless Wednesday meme,
and also part of the ABC Wednesday meme.
Katsushika Hokusai is regarded as one of the most influential and creative minds in the history of Japanese art. His unique social observations, innovative approach to design and mastery of the brush made him famous in Edo-period Japan and globally recognised within a decade of his death.
In 1909 the National Gallery of Victoria purchased five works from Hokusai’s iconic Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji series, including his most celebrated image The great wave off Kanagawa (The great wave - see above), 1830–34; two works from his A Tour to the Waterfalls in Various Provinces series; and four other major works. These astute acquisitions established a legacy of Japanese art in Australia that has now extended for more than one hundred years.
Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese: 喜多川 歌麿; c. 1753 – 31 October 1806) was a Japanese artist. He is one of the most highly regarded designers of ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings, and is best known for his bijin ōkubi-e "large-headed pictures of beautiful women" of the 1790s, including erotic prints. He also produced nature studies, particularly illustrated books of insects.
Here is his "Kitchen Scene" ca. 1794–95.


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