is probably the best known and most popular style of
Japanese art. Like
artistic eras in other parts of the world, Ukiyo-e art was
produced in a variety of different media, including
painting. Ukiyo-e, which is Japanese for "pictures of the floating
world”, is primarily associated with a style of woodblock
print making that depicted scenes of harmony and carefree
everyday living. Because it used woodblocks to make a number of prints, Ukiyo-e
took art from being the domain of the upper classes and
then made it more accessible to the common people.
became popular around the mid-nineteenth century.
One of the first major artists in the Ukiyo-e was
Monorobu Hishikawa, who produced single color prints made
with woodblocks. Hishikawa,
who was an illustrator for a book publisher, had to argue
very hard to convince his superiors that printing and
selling single sheet artworks would be a lucrative
is certainly ironic, since Ukiyo-e became one of the most
popular and lucrative forms of art the world has ever seen.
became the first Ukiyo-e "master”, and once his works
had achieved widespread fame, he began to accept pupils.
His actions created a trend, and soon other master
artists were working with students to promote several
different styles of print-making.
The most popular subjects for Ukiyo-e prints at first
were women, usually prostitutes, or "courtesans",
and Ukiyo-e became known for its almost pornographic
not all Ukiyo-e prints featured nudity.
In fact, many were full length portraits of women
displaying their kimonos not unlike modern fashion models.
Ukiyo-e prints used a single color – custom prints with
added color had to be finished by hand.
Though later developments allowed the use of three,
and then finally multiple colors, the process of woodblock
printing remained basically the same.
The artist would produce a master painting, which was
then traced by craftsmen who carefully marked where each
color would be placed. Then these craftsmen would make templates for each color,
producing a separate woodblock for each one.
The woodblocks were then pressed sequentially onto
the paper in a certain order, producing the final product.
style remained popular into the nineteenth century.
While courtesans and other women remained popular
subjects, landscapes, city scenes, and many other scenes
from everyday life began to emerge as popular subjects as
the art form became more widespread. Ando
Hiroshige, a woodblock artist who began producing works
around the beginning of the nineteenth century, is widely
regarded as one of the best Ukiyo-e artists.
His master works, a series of prints called Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido, are considered as some of the
finest Ukiyo-e prints, and his passing in 1858 more or less
coincided with the end of the Ukiyo-e woodblock printing