In part 2 of my investigation into the woodblock prints of the Edo period in Japan in the 18th century I am going to provide some historical background to the development of this type of art. I will concentrate on the political and social atmosphere under the Shogunate.
” The Kano painters had been in the service of the Shogun for several generations and by the Edo period were creating the official style for the Tokugawa Shogunate”. .
Joan Stanley-Baker in her book of Japanese art gives some very useful background information to how the painters of the Kano period worked.
” One of the most remarkable painters of the Edo period was Kano Tanyu . he worked in both Edo and Kyoto produced paintings for the imperial palace and for the Shogun’s castle”. .
Stanley-Baker now goes on to discuss the importance of Genre painting in Japan at this time.
” In the Edo period diversity and elegance in the fine arts was matched by the robust humour and virile self-confidence of the rising lower mercantile class”. 
” Although the Tokugawa had placed Merchants beneath Farmers and artisans in the new social hierarchy this enterprising class nevertheless came increasingly to dominate life in the land”. .
Stanley- Baker continues her commentary with descriptions of the Merchant class and their role in Japanese society at this time.
” In Cities and towns they created a vigorous commercial economy during this period. Mass literacy was among the highest in the world. popular and satirical novels were extremely fashionable and the printing business flourished”. .
” Since the early 16th Century a favourite art form among the rising bourgeois was genre painting. These works featured a variety of popular recreations and amusements”. .
Stanley-Baker describes how screen paintings depicted various facets of City life.
“Large format screen paintings depicted entire sections of the City from a birds eye perspective interlaced with gold clouds”. .
” These floating world pictures or Ukiyo-e dominated both genre painting and the new world famous Japanese woodblock prints”. .
Stanley-Baker continues her comments on this new rising Merchant class which sought any form of entertainment which reflected the more risqué or erotic depictions of courtesans and their lovers.
” The literate Bourgeoise was hungry for printed literature of the outspoken type which had long been part of their vernacular tradition”. .
” Illustrations particularly of bawdy tales were in great demand and astute publishers commissioned and produced some of the worlds most explicit and joyous celebration of earthly pleasures”..
Stanley Baker now considers the role of the first great master of Ukiyo-e prints Utamoro.
” Later print masters (Utamoro) extolled the statuesque elegance of courtesans highlighting their role as leaders of high fashion”. .
” Kitagawa Utamoro produced many series showing women at home and in the Licensed quarters”. .
Stanley-Baker points out that Utamoro’s prints leave nothing to the imagination and he was well known for his explicit depictions of the sex act. Hokusai and Hiroshige would concentrate on Landscape and travelogue prints.
” Utamoro’s prints, spicy sardonic and psychologically acute are among the most treasured by western collectors and connoisseurs”. .
Michael Robinson in his book on Woodblock prints traces Utamoro’s early beginnings.
” He (Utamoro) depicted close up images of beautiful women . utamoro’s beautiful women were portrayed with individual character”. .
Christine Guth in her Art of Edo Japan also comments on Utamoro .
” These changes in physique were accompanied by the dramatic changes in hair and dress style is evident in the designs of Kitagawa Utamoro”. .
” Utamoro presented them in a more convincing setting investing them also with a more overt eroticism”. .
This concludes Part 2 of my investigation into Ukiyo-E prints and the influence of the three great masters Utamoro , Hokusai and Hiroshige. In Part 3 I will delve deeper into the art of Utamoro .
- JAPANESE ART JOAN STANLEY-BAKER .PG.141
- DITTO. PG.185
- JAPANESE WOODBLOCKS MICHAEL ROBINSON: PG.14
- ART OF EDO JAPAN THE ARTIST AND THE CITY 1615-1868: CHRISTINE GUTH PG.108