U is for . . .


April 24, 2014 by Ray Yanek




"Women on Palace  Veranda" by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

“Women on Palace Veranda” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi


Untitled by Utagawa Kuniyoshie

Untitled by Utagawa Kuniyoshie

Ukiyo-e, which translated means “the floating world”, is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints that came into prominence in the city of Edo (modern Tokyo) during the shogun period.  Ukiyo-e is sometimes considered “the art of the pleasure quarter”.  In cities like Edo, the shoguns established walled areas of the city that were meant strictly for the pursuit of pleasures.  These were the areas of brothels, tea houses, theaters and other pleasurable pursuits.

The ukiyo-e prints focused on the life of these pleasure centers. Subjects generally focused around images of the warrior class, geisha, kabuki, famous courtesans and well-known actors.  Occasionally, the prints would focus on romantic landscapes around the area.  To learn more of the history of this genre see the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History here.

"Warriors of Our Country" by Kamigashi

“Warriors of Our Country” by Kamigashi

I first discovered Japanese woodblock prints in the Creative Writing class I teach at the high school. My students are asked, at the start of our poetry unit, to compose haiku based on of the woodblock prints at this place that seem to inspire them.   I’ve really gotten some great haiku over the year based on this exercise.  Here’s a link to the gallery that I use.

To be honest, I prefer the softer and calmer works of the 20th century gallery above, but still the ukiyo-e prints are beautiful in their own right and there is nothing better than a colorful glimpse into another time and culture.

"Stations of the Tokaido Goyu" byUtagawa Hiroshige

“Stations of the Tokaido Goyu” byUtagawa Hiroshige


To see more examples of the ukiyo-o prints please click the gallery here.




4 thoughts on “U is for . . .

  1. P Liegl says:

    You’re still teaching something everyday.

  2. Kathe W. says:

    Japanese wood block prints are amazing.

  3. ardurdan says:

    I have to agree with Kathe W. that Japanese woodblock prints are amazing. When I looked at these pictures, the first person that came to mind was an artist I really like named Takato Yamamoto. His style of art is more “Ukiyo-e Pop” but I think it is very easy to tell that the Ukiyo-e genre of woodblock prints and paintings has some influence in his work. His illustrations are often dark and sometimes erotic or serene but have amazing detail and color. He often explores the themes of darkness, metamorphosis, love, and death as well bondage and vampires. The characters in his illustrations often have stoic, emotionless expressions on their faces and some of them are almost doll-like in appearance and the positions they are drawn in. Takato Yamamoto works mainly with acrylic paint on paper and canvas. You should look him up sometime if you get a chance to. His work is beautiful in my opinion and if I had the money I’d buy his art books.

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