Ukiyo-e Japanese Prints – ‘Pictures of the floating world’

After a period of nearly 150 years of Civil War the Edo Period brings with it Ukiyo-e artwork (translated as pictures of the floating world.) The artwork, mostly woodblock prints and painting depicts, nature, towns, actors, wrestlers, and the human figure (including erotica.)

Katsushika Hokusa - The Great Wave

Some of the most famous pieces to come from this period are from an artist named Katsushika Hokusai who painted 36 views of of Mt. Fuji.

I have drawn things since I was 6. All that I made before the age of 65 is not worth counting. At 73 I began to understand the true construction of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes, and insects. At 90 I will enter into the secret of things. At 110, everything - every dot, every dash - will live. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age, I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign myself 'The Old Man Mad About Drawing.'

As with European art, we are seeing predominately male artists depicting female figures. Female figures are mostly seen in acts of seduction, beauty, or caregiving. There is a great deal of voyeurism in this art. 

Artist- Hiroshige 3 and Yoshiiku — 三代広重 Title- The Snow Willow Bathouse2

What we are seeing in European art is a flattening of the figure from the time of Raphael (1483 – 1520) to Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918) Toulouse Lautrec (1864 – 1901). We are moving from form to flatter shape with a focus on the outline and overlap. 

Egon Schiele Seated Woman Back View
Toulouse Waiting Time For The Prostitute

What are some qualities Ukiyo-e art is incorporating.? 

  • The depth of space is limited and the ground is tipped up.
  • The figure is flat and is about overlaps rather than foreshortening.
  • Characteristic displays of limbs – hands and feet have fingers and toes and nails. 
  • Genitals are never shown except in erotica when they are the point.
  • Nudity is seldom complete.
  • The face shows expression.
  • The shape of the body expresses the emotion or motive of the figure. 
Toyohara Kunichika
Torii Kiyonaga (Japanese, 1752-1815)

Western Artists Influenced by Ukiyo-e Art and proposed lesson.

We borrow the sensibility of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints of figures and combine them with a contemporary understanding of our world. We are not old Japan or old Europe.  We must consider the border of our page, incorporate one pattern, consider greatly the overall shape of the figure, have expression in the face (if see) and offer characteristic expression of hands and feet while using only height and width of the figure predominately drawn in outline. 

Woman Bathing (La Toilette) 1890–91 Mary Cassatt American
The Bath 1890–91 Mary Cassatt American
Woman at the Tub (Femme au tub), 1896
Paul Sérusier, Women at the Spring, Musée d'Orsay (1898)
The printed dress by Édouard Vuillard (1891)
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