Monday, October 3, 2016

Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints

          The word ukiyo stemmed from Buddhist origins, it means “floating world”. It was used to describe the impermanence of the human world and the belief that all things are short lived. During the Edo period (1600-1868) the word ukiyo changed; it was used to express that the fleeting nature of life was to be enjoyed to the fullest because of its ephemeral nature. The word became synonymous with the pleasure and theater districts of Edo (now Tokyo, Japan) that were constantly changing. Ukiyo-e literally translates to “floating world pictures”. Woodblock prints are the most representative art form of ukiyo-e and the Edo period.
Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797-1858), 13th Station: Hara, circa 1833-4 from Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road, woodblock print, courtesy of Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania
          Without the urbanization of Edo and the rise of the financial power of the chōnin (merchant class) ukiyo-e might not have gained as much popularity as it did. The chōnin class were subjected to sumptuary laws (ken'yakurei: laws regulating expenditures) created by the samurai class to keep up the illusions of the social system. The Japanese social structure was of a Confucian design (Samurai-Farmers-Artisans-Merchants) with samurai on the top of the social structure and merchants at the bottom. Many samurai families were going bankrupt while the chōnin class, the lowest social class, flourished financially. The sumptuary edicts restricted any display of wealth, including what chōnin could and could not wear. These laws created tension between the samurai elite and chōnin, so the chōnin class found ways around these laws by funding the arts and creating a place where they could enjoy themselves and spend their hard earned money, hence the “floating world” became a place where rich merchants could show and experience artistic pleasures.

          Ukiyo-e prints also served as very important pieces of print media. Traditional ukiyo-e prints showed images from the pleasure districts (such as Yoshiwara) of the urban cities like Edo. The images were of the beautiful courtesans (bijinga) and famous kabuki actors of the theater district. Similar to magazines of today, ukiyo-e prints during the Edo period provided fashion and culture tips for the wives of wealthy merchant and samurai families. They were also used for advertising and commerce. During the late Edo period a successful effort to bring landscape woodblock print into the world of ukiyo-e was made by Hokusai and Hiroshige. 

          The Luther W. Brady Art Gallery is hosting an exhibit of first edition woodblock prints designed by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858).  The exhibit, Along the Eastern Road: Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido was organized by the Reading Public Museum and will be at the Brady Art Gallery until December 2.

Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797-1858), 10th Station: Hakone, circa 1833-4 from Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road, woodblock print, courtesy of Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania

- Denisha Phipps, GW Graduate Student in Exhibition Design and Public Engagement

Bibliography:
Strange, Edward. Hiroshige's Woodblock Prints: A Guide. New York: Dover Publications, 1983.                     Print.

Mason, Penelope E. History of Japanese Art. New York: Abrams, 1993. Print.

Slade, Toby. Japanese Fashion: A Cultural History. Oxford: Berg, 2009. Print.

Department of Asian Art. “Woodblock Prints in the Ukiyo-e Style.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ukiy/hd_ukiy.htm (October 2003)


Department of Asian Art. “Art of the Pleasure Quarters and the Ukiyo-e Style.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/plea/hd_plea.htm (October 2004)

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Howard Hodgkin: Paintings - May 16, 2012

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints

          The word ukiyo stemmed from Buddhist origins, it means “floating world”. It was used to describe the impermanence of the human world and the belief that all things are short lived. During the Edo period (1600-1868) the word ukiyo changed; it was used to express that the fleeting nature of life was to be enjoyed to the fullest because of its ephemeral nature. The word became synonymous with the pleasure and theater districts of Edo (now Tokyo, Japan) that were constantly changing. Ukiyo-e literally translates to “floating world pictures”. Woodblock prints are the most representative art form of ukiyo-e and the Edo period.
Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797-1858), 13th Station: Hara, circa 1833-4 from Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road, woodblock print, courtesy of Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania
          Without the urbanization of Edo and the rise of the financial power of the chōnin (merchant class) ukiyo-e might not have gained as much popularity as it did. The chōnin class were subjected to sumptuary laws (ken'yakurei: laws regulating expenditures) created by the samurai class to keep up the illusions of the social system. The Japanese social structure was of a Confucian design (Samurai-Farmers-Artisans-Merchants) with samurai on the top of the social structure and merchants at the bottom. Many samurai families were going bankrupt while the chōnin class, the lowest social class, flourished financially. The sumptuary edicts restricted any display of wealth, including what chōnin could and could not wear. These laws created tension between the samurai elite and chōnin, so the chōnin class found ways around these laws by funding the arts and creating a place where they could enjoy themselves and spend their hard earned money, hence the “floating world” became a place where rich merchants could show and experience artistic pleasures.

          Ukiyo-e prints also served as very important pieces of print media. Traditional ukiyo-e prints showed images from the pleasure districts (such as Yoshiwara) of the urban cities like Edo. The images were of the beautiful courtesans (bijinga) and famous kabuki actors of the theater district. Similar to magazines of today, ukiyo-e prints during the Edo period provided fashion and culture tips for the wives of wealthy merchant and samurai families. They were also used for advertising and commerce. During the late Edo period a successful effort to bring landscape woodblock print into the world of ukiyo-e was made by Hokusai and Hiroshige. 

          The Luther W. Brady Art Gallery is hosting an exhibit of first edition woodblock prints designed by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858).  The exhibit, Along the Eastern Road: Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido was organized by the Reading Public Museum and will be at the Brady Art Gallery until December 2.

Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797-1858), 10th Station: Hakone, circa 1833-4 from Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road, woodblock print, courtesy of Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania

- Denisha Phipps, GW Graduate Student in Exhibition Design and Public Engagement

Bibliography:
Strange, Edward. Hiroshige's Woodblock Prints: A Guide. New York: Dover Publications, 1983.                     Print.

Mason, Penelope E. History of Japanese Art. New York: Abrams, 1993. Print.

Slade, Toby. Japanese Fashion: A Cultural History. Oxford: Berg, 2009. Print.

Department of Asian Art. “Woodblock Prints in the Ukiyo-e Style.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ukiy/hd_ukiy.htm (October 2003)


Department of Asian Art. “Art of the Pleasure Quarters and the Ukiyo-e Style.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/plea/hd_plea.htm (October 2004)

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Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

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