Early Ukiyo-e: Power of the Woodblock, Power of the Brush
Chiba City Museum of Art (千葉市美術館)
〒260-0013 Chiba Prefecture, Chiba, Japan
The inhabitants of the emerging city of Edo found peace in its social order and calm. The late 17th century saw a confidence in, and an affection for, that city, which gave birth to Ukiyo-e. Beauties adorned in the upmost fashion, Kabuki of craze-like popularity, and fun-filled life in the city: Ukiyo-e vividly portrays these contemporary manners and customs, and powerfully captures the enjoyment of the moment. With its mood of glorifying the era, Ukiyo-e won the hearts of the people.
Ukiyo-e art was produced in brush paintings – screens, hanging scrolls and hand scrolls painted in traditional Japanese style – or, in much greater quantity, in woodblock prints. These reached people far and wide, and were a powerful influence in promoting this pleasure-loving trend of the age. Special features of woodblock prints were the speed of production enabling the uptake of latest fashions, and the low cost of mass production. This gave ordinary people easy access to the enjoyment of art, which created a culture unseen elsewhere in the world. Also remarkable is the use of an economic printing method that maintained low-margin, high-turnover profitability, yet without losing any precious aesthetic quality.
How did Ukiyo-e emerge, develop, and remain – into the modern age – so popular and significant? This exhibition introduces the early years of Ukiyo-e, through some 200 important prints and paintings, from the time of the so-called founder of Ukiyo-e, Hishikawa Moronobu (?-1694), until the appearance of Suzuki Harunobu (1725?- 70), from whom was born the high-quality, color woodblock prints known as Nishiki-e (“brocade prints”). The naïve, yet strong presence displayed in early Ukiyo-e conveys the vitality of the new city, and responds to the dynamic movements of the era. Such is its beauty that we hope will be fully appreciated.