Art History Lesson! Ukiyo-e: The Floating World

I’m going to start out by saying I have never been to Japan. In fact, I’ve never been to any part of Asia. IN FACT, I have never been outside of the United States. Yes, I know, it’s tragic. Thankfully, I have the internet (and awesome worldly friends), and I’ve been introduced to some really fantastic cultures, and in that turn, some really remarkable art techniques.

Ukiyo-e: The Floating World

One of these is Ukiyo-e, which, roughly translated, means “pictures of the floating world.” It was an art form in Japan in which artists printed amazingly detailed pictures on blocks of wood. The subjects of the paintings ranged from city life to mountain landscapes to ocean scenes. They were meant to show the beauty of the world around us. This technique was developed in the 17th century and became popular with townspeople who were not rich enough to own original paintings. Woodprints were easy and fast to make, taking one painting and making hundreds of prints. Because of this, they were mass-produced, so much so that soon there were far too many of them and their popularity waned. They were considered so worthless, in fact, that the Japanese began to use them as packing materials on ships. It wasn’t long before prints found their way outside the country and the rest of the world became aware of their existence.

European artists were in awe of the paintings. Impressionists like Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet were greatly inspired by the artwork, and the influence of the Ukiyo-e art form was given a name: Japonisme. Though the rest of the world had embraced it, traditional Ukiyo-e died out in the early 1900s, and despite attempts to resurrect it, it has never hit the popularity it had once enjoyed.

I own several different paper prints of traditional Ukiyo-e images, but have never had the opporunity to see an actual woodprint of one. Are there any art forms that you admire but are no longer around? I’d love to hear about them! Feel free to share. For now, enjoy some of my favorite Ukiyo-e prints. For more information about Ukiyo-e, please visit The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum and the very informative Ukiyo-e wiki page.

ukiyoe-sharaku ukiyoe-ogata ukiyoe-kiyonaga

ukiyoe-greatwave ukiyoe-tokaido

ukiyoe-suzuki ukiyoe-edo ukiyoe-kitagawa

ukiyoe-kunisada ukiyoe-kuniyoshi

ukiyoe-yoshu ukiyoe-fuji ukiyoe-hatsuhana

Clicking on any image will bring you to the Wiki page for the artist. Enjoy!

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