A STUDY OF JAPANESE WOODBLOCKS OR (UKIYO -E) PRINTS DURING THE 18TH CENTURY WHICH DIRECTLY INFLUENCED WESTERN ART PARTICULARLY THE IMPRESSIONISTS ( MONET CASSATT AND WHISTLER) AND THE POST IMPRESSIONISTS ( VAN GOGH PISSARRO AND TOULOUSE LAUTREC) AN APPRECIATION OF THE THREE GREAT ARTISTS OF THE EDO PERIOD IN JAPAN KITAGAWA UTAMORO ( 1753-1806 KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI ( 1760-1849) AND UTAGAWA (ANDO) HIROSHIGE( 1797-1858). PART 4.

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In the 4th part of my exploration of the three great masters of the Edo period in Japan I am going to be considering the contribution of Katsushika Hokusai the second  great master who like Hiroshige would concentrate on Landscape scenes and particularly scenes of Mount Fuji of which he was famous.

Michael Robinson in his Japanese Woodblocks considers the background to Hokusai’s artistic development.

” Although not the founder of the Utagawa School Utagawa Toyokuni was its most important master to study perspective in Western art”. [1].

” It was Utagawa Toyoharu the founder of the school introduced the idea of Landscape painting as a subject matter itself to Ukiyo-E . it was however the Katsukawa school protégé Katsushika Hokusai who was to become the early master of the landscape genre”. [2].

Robinson goes on to explain Hokusai’s contribution to the Landscape genre.

” Hokusai the early master of the Landscape genre was adopted into an artisan family”. [3].

” Recognising the limited potential of figurative work Hokusai turned his attention to Landscapes, he designed many landscapes pictures , beginning with the series ‘ Eight views of Edo ‘ and landscapes in the Western style”. [4].

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Robinson continues with his commentary by describing the stations that Hokusai painted depicting breath taking scenes of some the most beautiful scenery in Japan. Hokusai was a consummate artist.

” The stations were a series of stopping and resting points for travellers masking the journey from Edo-Kyoto. Hokusai also produced ‘Shungan’ illustrations for erotic books as well as flora and fauna images”. [5].

” In his mature years Hokusai began a series of manga or art manuals designed to educate his pupils as a way for him to make money quickly”. [6].

Robinson now comes on to discuss Hokusai’s most famous project which was to give him worldwide recognition , his ‘thirty six views of Mount Fuji’.

” He began a series of landscapes which he was most famous for ‘thirty  six views of Mount Fuji’. this was followed by the series ‘wondrous views of famous bridges in all the provinces”. [7].

Stanley Baker in her book Japanese art also comments on the mastery of Hokusai.

” Little of the baroque exaggeration is found in the work of Katsushika Hokusai. his landscape prints discovered vigorous new life in an ancient form”.[8].

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Stanley Baker continues her commentary quoting Hokusai himself on his progress as an artist.

” From about the age of 50 I produced a number of designs yet of all I drew prior to the age of 70 there is nothing of great note. at the age of 73 I finally came to understand the nature of birds , animals , insects flashes the vital nature of grasses and trees”. [9].

” His famous view of Mount Fuji so overexposed as to seem banal remains nevertheless a synthesis of supreme craftsmanship tinged with a remarkable human view of the world he knows”. [10].

Christine Guth in her Art of Edo Japan also gives great prominence to the genius of Hokusai.

” With an output numbering in the thousands Katsushika Hokusai was one of the most prolific versatile and influential of all print designers (artists)”.[11].

” While Hokusai’s manga enjoyed great success his 36 views of Mount Fuji made the artist a legend in his own time”. [12].

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Guth now concludes her commentary on Hokusai and starts to consider the influence of Utagawa Hiroshige the last of the three great masters of  Edo Japan.

” Hokusai’s vision widely diffused through prints and books reflected and heightened public consciousness of Mount Fuji as a noble yet dangerous peak”. [13].

” Hokusai’s personal obsession with Mount Fuji was rooted in the ancient and still vital belief that it was sacred and the secret of the source of mortality”.[14].

Guth now considers the contribution of Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige the last of the 3 great masters of Japanese Ukiyo-e printmaking.

” Utagawa (Ando ) Hiroshige was by far its most gifted practitioner. a low ranking Samurai Hiroshige studied Kano painting but was also conversant with other painting styles”. [15].

Guth  makes a massive sweeping generalisation here about the ability of Hiroshige. Let us not forget he had the advantage of studying both Utamoro and Hokusai and anyway they painted different genre ‘s. As I observed in my previous article both Utamoro and Hokusai painted Genre styles whereas Hiroshige concentrated on Landscape. Guth is wrong to make a subjective statement like this with no objective evidence.

” Hiroshige’s compositions like those of Hokusai are characterised by a personal often highly contrived sense of order”. [16].

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Guth continues her commentary of Hiroshige. I will concentrate on Hiroshige in my concluding article on Ukiyo-e printmaking of Japan.

” Hiroshige began using his celebrated 53 stages on Tokaido in 1833 a year after  he himself had travelled along this route  as a member of the Daiyo retinue”. [17].

” Hiroshige capped his long and illustrious career as a designer of topographic prints with the ambitious 100 famous views of Edo. Hiroshige capitalised on the traditions of pictures of famous places to immortalise shrines and Temples  and tea houses”. [18].

This concludes my fourth part of my exploration into the three great masters of Ukiyo-e prints in Edo Japan. In my final concluding part I will consider the last great master of Ukiyo-e printmaking in Japan Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige.

FOOTNOTES

  1. JAPANESE WOODBLOCKS : MICHAEL ROBINSON PG.15
  2. DITTO.PG.16
  3. DITTO.PG.16
  4. DITTO.PG.17
  5. DITTO.PG.17
  6. DITTO.PG.17
  7. DITTO.PG.18
  8. JAPANESE ART : JOAN STANLEY BAKER PG.192
  9. DITTO.PG.192
  10. DITTO.PG.192
  11. ART OF EDO JAPAN : THE ARTIST AND THE CITY 1615-1868; CHRISTINE GUTH. PG.113
  12. DITTO.PG.114
  13. DITTO.PG.113
  14. DITTO.PG.114
  15. DITTO.PG.114
  16. DITTO.PG.114
  17. DITTO.PG.115
  18. DITTO.PG.117

A STUDY OF JAPANESE WOODBLOCK OR (UKIYO-E) PRINTS DURING THE 18TH CENTURY WHICH DIRECTLY INFLUENCED WESTERN ART PARTICULARLY THE IMPRESSIONISTS ( MONET CASSATT AND WHISTLER)AND THE POST IMPRESSIONISTS ( VAN GOGH PISSARRO AND TOULOUSE LAUTREC)AN APPRECIATION OF THE THREE GREAT ARTISTS OF THE EDO PERIOD IN JAPAN. KITAGAWA UTAMORO ( 1753-1806) KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI ( 1849) AND UTAGAWA (ANDO) HIROSHIGE ( 1797-1858): PART 3.

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In Part 3 of my study into Japanese Wood blocks or Ukiyo-e prints I am going to consider in detail the life and work of Kitagawa Utamoro. Jonathan Hiller gives a good introduction to the work of Utamoro.

” Like most Ukiyo-e artists Utamoro began his career by providing illustrations for various kinds of cheap popular Literature”[1].

” Another beautiful print by Utamoro  of this period is a triptych of a summer evening on the Sumida. into these prints Utamoro has brought that Plein air , atmosphere, the figures are bathed in the softly sun lit  air of the Edo summer”. [2].

Hillier shows how Utamoro had established himself in the Ukiyo-e school, but he was  still treated as no more than  an ordinary craftsman or worker.

” Although Utamoro had evidently in 1785 arrived at a position of some consequence in the Ukiyo-e school of painters he was still little different from an artisan”. [3].

”  A glance at the reproductions of Utamoro’s prints give us an impression of a land of colour , of grass and of pleasure-seeking of women attired in sumptuous garments”. [4].

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Hillier shows in his description of Utamoro  his great skill as a painter especially when depicting insects and birds.

” In the year 1788 appeared the first of Utamoro’s works the book of colour- prints (a picture book of selected insects)”. [5].

” Toriyama Seiken  ( a famous artist and painter) had this to say about Utamoro ‘ Now he gad acquired his great skill in painting , he manages to make the lustre of the firefly shine out in a manner to stagger ancient painting”. [6].

Hillier continues to comment on Utamoro’s great skill.

” He thus seeks to penetrate the mystery of nature with the blind groping of the larva , lighting his way with the firefly”. [7].

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Hiller shows that after 1788 Utamoro’s fame spread and his productivity increased.

” Certainly the period immediately following 1788 is one of increased productivity during which his exertions finally established him as the most potent force in the Ukiyo-e School”. [9].

” Not even Hiroshige whose snow scenes are among the finest works produced a more desolate wintry scene than the silver world of 1790″. [10].

Hillier shows that from 1800 Utamoro concentrated on the depiction of courtesans in the Pleasure quarters of Edo usually performing their very popular sexual proclivities which appealed to all classes of Edo Japan.

” Soon after 1791 Utamoro designed some series of half length portraits that in certain ways marked a greater departure from tradition than any of his works before or after”.[11].

” In the following years Utamoro’s Art was devoted almost exclusively to the glorification of Women and an intense number of single prints and a series of prints form a gallery of beauties drawn mainly from the pleasure quarters”. [12].

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 Hillier invests Utamoro with an insight of seeing through the outward appearance and producing some very intimate pictures.

” But Utamoro has that power rare among Japanese artists of breaking through the abstraction of bringing us into intimacy with his sitters of giving the illusion of life as we know it”. [13].

” The Ukiyo-e artists went further and contrived to run their designs across 3 sheets”.[14].

Hillier makes reference to the cavalier attitude or devil may care approach of Ujiyo-e artists.

” One of the features distinguishing the Ukiyo-e artists and no doubt partly responsible for their low esteem was the appropriation with a cavalier disregard for the sanctity of subjects hallowed from antiquity”. [15].

” Utamoro’s paintings partake of the character general to Ukiyo-e painting a greater realism , bright opaque colours and a delight in the detailed pattern of dresses -fine clear bounding lines and for subject, the Floating world and the Tea Horse”.[16].

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Hillier finally concludes by saying that it was Hokusai who would continue the great tradition of Ukiyo-e Print design by depicting landscapes. These prints would now be sold to the artisans and Peasantry who became interested in the vogue of the Travelogue pictures.

” To the end of his day Utamoro records the picnics and the pleasure outings that were a feature of Edo Life. He was the acknowledged leader of the Ukiyo-E School”. [17].

” It was left to Hokusai and later to Hiroshige to restore the school to something of its former glory and both these artists excelled in Landscape”. [18].

This concludes   my 3rd part of my study of Ukiyo-E prints. In Part 4 I will consider the great contribution of Katsushika Hokusai whose influential Landscape drawings and prints would spellbound  Edo japan and leave a lasting impression of a truly great artist.

FOOTNOTES

  1. UTAMORO COLOUR PRINTS AND PAINTINGS. J HILLIER. PG. 14
  2. DITTO.PG.25-6
  3. DITTO.PG.27
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  5. DITTO.PG.34
  6. DITTO.PG.39
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  10. DITTO.PG.46
  11. DITTO.PG.68
  12. DITTO.PG.80
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  14. DITTO.PG.86
  15. DITTO.PG.121
  16. DITTO.PG.130
  17. DITTO.PG.147 & 155
  18. DITTO.PG.158.