ukiyo-e 浮世絵
CATEGORY: art history / paintings
 
Lit. pictures of the floating world. Paintings and woodblock prints of genre themes developed from the mid-Edo to early Meiji periods, supported by the people in the middle class of society (shomin 庶民, or common people) mainly in the city of Edo. Because of this locality, ukiyo-e was also called *edo-e 江戸絵 or azuma-e 東絵, (lit. eastern pictures, see *azuma nishiki-e 東錦絵) during the Edo period. In the broader sense of the term, however, ukiyo-e includes various local paintings appreciated by common people in the Edo period all over Japan, such as *ootsu-e 大津絵 (comical, folk painting produced in Ootsu, Shiga prefecture), *nagasaki hanga 長崎版画 (woodblock prints depicting foreign people and objects seen in Nagasaki, Nagasaki prefecture), and *kamigata-e 上方絵 (woodblock prints produced in the Kyoto-Osaka area kamigata 上方, mostly portrayals of the *kabuki 歌舞伎 actors popular there).
The term ukiyo-e, which is first found in literature during the first half of the 1680's, derives from the fact that they depict the activities of a transient (floating), but therefore enjoyable world. Pictures of beautiful women *bijinga 美人画 and young boys, particularly the courtesans of the pleasure quarters yuujo 遊女, scenes from kabuki plays shibai-e 芝居絵 and portraits of popular actors *yakusha-e 役者絵, and pornographic pictures *shunga 春画 are the three major subjects of ukiyo-e. Literary themes taken from poems and stories from Japan and China were also popular, pictures of heroic warriors *musha-e 武者絵 being particularly favoured throughout the period. Often the classic themes were parodied or represented in mundane, contemporary circumstances (see *mitate-e 見立絵). Well-known landscape prints fuukei hanga 風景版画 and pictures of birds and flowers *kachouga 花鳥画 form just one of the later phases in the complex development of ukiyo-e.
Ukiyo-e were mass-produced in order to fulfill a great demand among middle-class people, who were their major appreciators. Therefore, the principal form of ukiyo-e were woodblock prints, which were planned by the publisher hanmoto 版元 and produced in collaboration with the painter/designer *eshi 絵師, carver horishi 彫師 and printer surishi 摺師. Even hand-paintings *nikuhitsuga 肉筆画 were produced in large quantities in workshops under the direction of a master artist who designed the product, supervised its coloring by his pupils and signed them . Because of the vagaries of this studio system several versions of the same painting with slight differences often exist in ukiyo-e.
Art historically, ukiyo-e is placed at the end of the development of *kinseishoki fuuzokuga 近世初期風俗画 (genre painting of the Early Modern period). Although early ukiyo-e artists signed themselves as painters of *yamato-e やまと絵, suggesting that ukiyo-e succeeded the tradition of native Japanese paintings, the influence of various pictorial styles of the period, including that of the *Kanouha 狩野派, *Tosaha 土佐派, *youfuuga 洋風画 (western style painting) and *shaseiga 写生画(realistic painting), can be found in ukiyo-e . The history of ukiyo-e can be devided into three periods.
Period 1) Meireki 明暦 to Houreki 宝暦 eras (1655-1764)
Ukiyo-e
prints derived from book illustrations. Book publishing had been popular in the kamigata 上方 area already in the early 17c, but after the disastrous fire of 1657, books began to be published in Edo. The proportion of illustrations in a book became bigger and bigger, and at last the texts became only one fifth of a whole page. The next step was for illustrations to become independent of the text and appreciated for themselves. Like Hishikawa Moronobu's 菱川師宣 (?-1694) "Scenes of Yoshiwara" Yoshiwara no tai 吉原の躰, they typically consisted of a set *kumimono 組物 of twelve prints, which mostly depicted scenes from popular stories or pornography. Ukiyo-e is generally thought to have originated with Moronobu, who declared in the preface of the book he illustrated, "Monthly Amusements" Tsukinami no Asobi 月次の遊 (1683), that he invented ukiyo-e and became a leading painter. Around 1700, single-sheet woodblock prints *ichimai-e 一枚絵 began to be sold alone and became the dominant form in Edo. To begin with the prints were all in black *sumi 墨 lines sumizuri-e 墨摺絵, with occasional hand colouring fudezaishiki 筆彩色 (brush coloring) added separately. Very strong, orange-red *tan 丹 or lead-red and in some cases green were boldly applied to the drawings with strong, wavy lines in tan-e 丹絵. 
Moronobu's paintings of beauties and/or of the pleasure quarters were succeeded by the work of artists of the *Kaigetsudouha 懐月堂派 which lasted for only about a generation. At the same time the artists of the *Toriiha 鳥居派, which is still in existence today took in a monopoly in kabuki theatrical posters and actor prints. Torii Kiyonobu 鳥居清信 (1664-1729) and Kiyomasu 清倍 (act. early 18c) invented a unique manner with strong stylization in tan-e for depicting kabuki actors, and established the Toriiha.
In the first half of 18c, *beni-e 紅絵 became prominent, lit. vermillion painting, in which lighter, rose-red paint/ink made of safflowers *beni 紅 and light green kusajiru 草汁 ( grass sap,) were more meticulously applied on more sophisticated drawings with thinner lines. In order to give an accent to prints that were otherwise too simple, hair and obi 帯 belts, etc. were often highlighted with dark, glossy black, made by adding *nikawa 膠 glue to sumi, in *urushi-e 漆絵 (lacquer painting, because of the gloss). In 1774, with the invention of *kentou 見当, color impressions irohan 色版 began to be added to the keyblock impression *omohan 主版 in sumi. Because rose-red and grass-green were the primary colors, they were called *benizuri-e 紅摺絵. Okumura Masanobu 奥村政信(1686-1764), who produced excellent beni prints during this period, was an innovative artist with many new ideas, such as a triptych with a continuous composition *soroimono 揃物, in long vertical format to be hung a pillar *hashira-e 柱絵, as well as *uki-e 浮絵 ( floating pictures), a print characterised by experimental application with an exaggerated use of western perspective.
Period 2) Meiwa 明和 to Kansei 寛政 eras (1764-1801)
The latter half of 18c is considered to be the classical period of ukiyo-e in terms of artistic quality. The technique of ukiyo-e prints reached its peak when multi-colored woodblock prints *nishiki-e 錦絵 (brocade pictures) were produced for extravagant calendars, e-goyomi 絵暦 (painting calendar) by Suzuki Harunobu 鈴木春信 (1725-70) in 1765. Harunobu's lovely, doll-like figures in classical and/or poetic settings (often in mitate-e) were replaced by slender ladies in contemporary settings as painted by Torii Kiyonaga 鳥居清長 (1752-1815) in the 1780's. Kiyonaga's beauties are often in groups, and painted on a set of two or three sheets of paper with a continuous composition. Kitagawa Utamaro 喜多川歌麿 (1753-1806) was the most popular painter of beauties in the 1790's. He depicted not only courtesans but also ordinary women, often as a bust *ookubi-e 大首絵, and successfully depicted the inner emotions of the ladies depicted by their subtle expressions and gestures.
Prints of kabuki actors were still produced by Toriiha artists, and their formal style became a standard. In the 1770's, Katsukawa Shunshou 勝川春章 (1726-92) created more realistic portraits *nigao-e 似顔絵 (likeness painting) of actors, which have been popular ever since. In 1794, Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊国 (1769-1825) published a series of "full-length portraits of actors" Yakusha butai no sugata-e 役者舞台の姿絵. His eclectic style depicting the dramatic postures of actors became extremely successful and eventually led to the establishment of the *Utagawaha 歌川派, the dominant ukiyo-e school in the 19c. On the other hand, Toushuusai Sharaku 東洲斎写楽 (act. 1794) published a series of close-up portraits ookubi-e of actors in May 1794. His extremely realistic works seemed sensational at that time, but his style may have been too radical for ordinary people, and ten months later his name suddenly disappeared from the records.
Period 3) Kyouwa 享和 to Keiou 慶応 eras (1801-68)
After 1800, ukiyo-e prints were produced in much larger quantities with wider variations of themes, such as landscapes, birds and flowers, historical stories and warriors, satiric and/or comical cartoons, in addition to the beauties, actors, and pornography. Pictures designed for toys omocha-e 玩具絵, such as playing cards, kites, etc, are also generally included.
The artists of the Utagawaha were the most prosperous, but their pictures of the beauties and actors became stylized and manneristic. Two of the most well-known masters of landscape prints in this period are Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎 (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 (also known as Andou 安藤 Hiroshige, 1797-1858). Hokusai's well-structured landscapes, represented by the "Thirty-six Views of Mt.Fuji" Fugaku Sanjuurokkei 富嶽三十六景 (1831-33), contrast with Hiroshige's intimate views as found in the "Fifty-three Stations on the Toukaidou"*Toukaidou Gojuusantsugi 東海道五十三次 (1833). Another artist worth noting is Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1797-1861), who became particularly popular in warrior prints, caricatures, and contemporary townscapes.
The introduction of photography and lithography sekihanga 石版画 put an end to the innovative development of ukiyo-e, and Kobayashi Kiyochika 小林清親 (1847-1915) is often thought to be the last true ukiyo-e painter. As interest in ukiyo-e declined in Japan after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, many works were exported while others were simply used as wrapping paper. The art of ukiyo-e woodblock prints underwent great re-evaluation in Europe and America in the late 19c to the early 20c, and greatly influenced the artistic movements of Impressionism and Art Nouveau.
 
 

 
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