TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 May 2014
My version of this book was published in 1994 and has “Mitate no Kinkō”, 1765, by Suzuki Harunobu [woman sitting on a large fish] on the front cover. The original German text has been translated by Michael Scuffil and picture commentaries are by Mitsunobu Satō, Yoshino Moriyama, Hideko Yamaguchi and Yuriko Iwakiri. The artist’s biographies have been written by Ingo F. Walther.
In the books 200 pages there 130 woodblock colour prints by 43 artists encompassing three centuries of Japanese woodblock printmaking. These are shown as full- and half-page plates. The originals are part of the holding at the Riccar Art Museum in Tokyo that has the world’s largest collection of such prints. There are two essays illustrated in colour and black and white. The first is a general introduction to Japanese woodblock prints, ‘Ukiyo-e – Origins and History’ by Mitsunobu Satō, the Curator of the Riccar Art Museum, and the second, ‘Cherry - Wood - Blossom’ by Thomas Zacharias, which considers the technique, content and style of Japanese prints and their influence on European fin-de-siècle art.
Zacharius emphasises that it was the opening up of trade with Japan in 1853 that began the process by which Japonism began to influence Western art through its effect and impact on artists such as Degas, van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Schiele and Klimt, and on to, and beyond, Art Nouveau.
Following the colour plates and associated commentaries, there is a Glossary of Technical terms, ranging from ‘Abuna-e’ [Erotic images and scenes of pairs of lovers] to ‘Za’ [Theatre], Biographies of Artists and a Bibliography. Hishikawa Moronobu, 1625-94, generally considered to be the artist who first produced ukiyo-e prints, is represented by “Young Couple”, undated.
Ukiyo-e, prints that depict the pleasurable side of life at that period, first appeared in Tokyo [Edo] in the 17th-century. The term is generally translated as ‘pictures of the floating world’. To appeal to the largest number of buyers there were a great number of motifs, such as views of famous places [Katsushika Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mount Fuji”, 1831-34, and “Famous Bridges of Various Provinces: The Suspension Bridge between the Provinces of Hida and Etchū”, 1834-35, by Katsushika Hokusai], historical pictures, scenes from everyday life [“Tea-Stall Girl with Guest”, 1778, by Torii Kiyonaga, “Sewing”, 1795, and “Applying Lipstick”, 1794-95, both by Kitagawa Utamoro and Chōensai Eishin’s “Falconer”, 1789-1801], landscapes [“Uki-e of a Foreign Scene”, 1772-81, by Utagawa Toyaharu and “Ferry across the Rokugo River”, 1784, by Tori Kiyonaga], pictures of animals [“Horseman in the Snow”, 1833-34, by Katsushika Hokusai and “Catfish”, 1830-44, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi], portraits of actors [“Tōshūsai Sharaku’s Tanimura Torazō as Washitsuka Hachiheiji” and “Actors on Stage: Masatsuya”, by Utagawa Toyokuni, both 1794] personality types [“Three Famous Beauties”, 1792-93, by Kitagawa Utamoro], flowers and trees at different times of the year [“Hibiscus and Sparrow” and “Irises and Meadow Cicada”, both 1832, both by Hokusai and “Cherry Blossom beneath the Evening Moon in the Northern Quarter”, 1830-44, by Utagawa Kunisada] and erotica and scenes in brothels [“Drinking Bout in a Brothel”, 1751-64, by Ishikawa Toyonobu, .
The dominant theme was woman’s beauty, the grace of her posture, her attitudes and the decorative aesthetics of her flowing garments. Amongst the most celebrated artists included in this book are Utamaro, who produced beautiful courtesans and geishas, Sharaku, who portrayed kabuki actors, Hokusai, famous for his landscapes that include “36 Views of Mount Fuji” and Hiroshige who produced “53 Stations on the Tōkaidō” and “100 Views of Famous Places in and around Edo”.
In looking at complex works, for example Kitagawa Utamaro’s “Wakaume from the Tamaya Establishment”, 1793, Torii Kiyonga’s “12 Pictures of Beauties from the South: 5th Month”, 1783, or Katsukawa Shūn’ei’s “Segawa Kikunojō III as Osome and Iwai Hanshirō IV as Hisamatsu”, 1788, in which there are a variety of colours and complicated patterns, it is all to easy to forget the intricacies of the multi-colour woodblock process.
This is an excellent introduction to an art form that is becoming more popular.