Ukiyo-e fans admire the paintings. [Women of China/Ye Shan]
|A painting at the exhibition [Women of China/Ye Shan]
Centuries Glimpse II: Japanese 18th and 19th Century Ukiyo-e Original Work Exhibition, sponsored by art institution O2Art, kicked off on May 11, 2013 at the Tong Space of the SOHO Building in Chaoyang District, Beijing.
It presents nearly 50 original works of Japanese Ukiyo-e painters from the Edo period (1603-1867) including Katsushika Hokusai, Kitagawa Utamaro, Keisai Eisen, Utagawa Toyokuni, and Toyohara Kunichika. The exhibition will run until June 6.
On June 15 last year, O2Art held the first Centuries Glimpse: Exhibition of the Original Works of the Best Japanese Ukiyo-e Masters. The 20-day event ushered in nearly 1,000 ukiyo-e enthusiasts, including a large number of scholars, artists and long-time ukiyo-e fans.
Ukiyo-e, literally 'pictures of the floating world', is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints (or woodcuts) and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theater, and the demimonde. It is the main artistic genre of woodblock printing in Japan.
Using classical Chinese painting techniques, it appeared to cater to the needs of the public such as merchants. Ukiyo-e works were introduced to the West and impressed Western people when used as wrappings of export such as tea and porcelain china. It later became a source of inspiration for the Impressionists. Modern Japanese comics, to an extent, were also derived from ukiyo-e.
Usually the word ukiyo is translated as "floating world" in English, referring to a concept of an evanescent world, impermanent, fleeting beauty; and a realm of entertainment (kabuki, courtesans, geisha) divorced from the responsibilities of the everyday world. "Pictures of the floating world", i.e. ukiyo-e, is considered a genre unto itself.
The art form rose to great popularity in the metropolitan culture of Edo (Tokyo) during the second half of the 17th century, originating with the single-color works of Hishikawa Moronobu in the 1670s. At first, only India ink was used, then some prints were manually colored with a brush, but in the 18th century Suzuki Harunobu developed the technique of polychrome printing to produce nishiki-e (brocade picture).
Ukiyo-e were affordable because they could be mass-produced. They were mainly meant for townsmen, who were generally not wealthy enough to afford an original painting. The original subject of ukiyo-e was city life, in particular activities and scenes from the entertainment district. Beautiful courtesans, bulky sumo wrestlers and popular actors would be portrayed while engaged in appealing activities. Later on landscapes also became popular. Political subjects, and individuals above the lowest strata of society (courtesans, wrestlers and actors) were not sanctioned in these prints and very rarely appeared. Sex was not sanctioned either, but continually appeared in ukiyo-e prints. Artists and publishers were sometimes punished for creating sexually explicit shunga (erotic art).
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Ukiyo-e had a profound impact on the European Impressionist and Post Impressionist painting movements. The famous painter Vincent Van Gogh once said: "I envy the Japanese painter. Every thing is very clear in their works. Their paintings are as simple as breathing. They paint the human figure with only simple smooth lines."