In this series of articles I will be concerned to show the development of the UKiyo -e Prints developed by the three Great masters Utamoro , Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Michael Robinson in his book on Woodblocks gives some background information to the Edo period and the culture.
” This period marked a key shift in foreign policy when Shogun Ieyasu closed the Trading doors to the outside World. the shogunate issued these rules partly to suppress Christian (Catholic) missionaries doctrine in Japan”. .
A word of explanation . the Shogunate was the warrior class of swordsmen who protected the Emperor of Japan. The two main clans of the shogunate were the Tokugawa and the Toyotomi . The Togugwa under Iyesau finally won a successful battle and became the de facto rulers of Japan.
Robinson here refers to Hedonism in this period.
” The Lower class Merchants were wealthy members of society but were unable to utilize that wealth to increase their Hierarchical status in Japanese society”. .
” Choosing to spend their money on Hedonistic indulgences within the Ukiyo or floating World of fashion , entertainment and erotica”..
Robinson as well as referring to the Merchant class comments on the artisan class.
” The artisan class- at the same time the shogun was keen to promote literacy in his society as part of Confucian ideals and knowledge (imported from China)”. .
Michael Robinson continues his commentary on the Ukiyo-E period .
” Woodblock printing in Japan is most effectively demonstrated in the Ukiyo-E prints of the Edo period”..
” The technique involves the creation of an image by the artist onto a sheet of paper that is then glued face down onto a piece of flat wood”..
Robinson continues describing the practical way these woodblock prints are printed and manufactured.
” The surface of the wood is then inked and a sheet of paper is applied before using a baren tool to burnish the back of the paper”. .
Robinson explains how the Ukiyo-E prints were imported originally from Korea and Japan.
” Although the woodblock print was centuries old as an idea in china and Korea in one way at least it was perfected in Japan by the use of handmade papers”. .
Robinson continues his historical overview of Ukiyo-E printing and the main influences for its development besides Utamoro.
” The earliest Ukiyo-E prints date from about 1600 and were mainly erotica ,illustrations for sex manuals to train courtesans with un coloured fine line drawings that were sometimes very explicit”..
” There is little doubt that (Katsukawa) Shunso developed a more realistic style that set the tone for Japanese woodblock printing in the 19th Century”. .
” The Katsukawa school that flourished between 1765 and the early yhears of the 19th Century adopted the ideas of artists from Haronbu through to Shunso”. .
Christine Guth an experienced academic in Art History has written a thoroughly scholarly piece of work in describing developments in the Edo period of Art and Culture.
” Until the 16th Century artistic patronage had been the exclusive preserve of the court , shogunate and religious institutions . In the Edo period the phenomenal growth of urban centres with large concentrations of wealthy townspeople challenged efforts to maintain centralised control over artistic production”. .
Kitagwa Utamoro one of the artists I am exploring painted a lot of Erotica which was much in demand by the wealthy courtesans and Merchants who were drawn to these sort of prints .They sold in large quantities , it was only later with Hokusai and Hiroshige that the Landscape genre became very popular because of the travelogues they engaged in.
Guth continues with her expert description of the Bourgeois and the role of the Shogunate during this dominant period of Edo Culture and art.
” The economic power of the Bourgeois especially in the Edo not only undermined the Shogun’s artistic hegemony but contributed to a new artistic pluralism”. .
” The Kano school and the realm of the official artist- patronage of selected artists and the institutionalisation of the expressive and symbolic content of their work in keeping with a rigidly hierarchical canon of taste was central to the Tokugawa strategy of rule”..
Guth continues to describe the various painters of the Kano school.
” Not all painters who served the Tokugawa Shogungate and daimyo belonged to the Kano school”. .
As you can see Ultamoro could paint Birds and plant life as well as his many Ukiyo-E prints of Erotica which was always available because of demand from Courtesans, Merchants and artisans.
Guth like Robinson comments on the nature of woodblock prints.
” Woodblock printed books and single sheet prints became the chief tools in this process”. .
” The artistic vision of the publishers , designers and writers who collaborated in their creation both stimulated and responded top a growing sense of Edo cultural identity”. .
Guth concludes with a comparison between Paintings and prints and the development of travel would help and assist the landscape genre of Artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige.
” Unlike Painting Prints could be produced rapidly relatively inexpensively and in large numbers”. .
” By the opening decade of the 19th Century nationwide travel for both business and pleasure was common among all classes”.
This concludes the first part of my exploration into the development of Ujiyo-E Prints practised by Kitagawa Utamoro , Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. In Part 2 I will further explore the work of Kitagawa Utamoro in some detail.
- JAPANESE WOODBLOCK PRINTS MICHAEL ROBINSON .PG.7
- ART OF EDO JAPAN THE ARTIST AND THE CITY 1615-1868. CHRISTINE GUTH.PG.11