Ukiyo-e is a uniquely Japanese art form. Early in the Edo era, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, the brothels and kabuki theater of the Kyoto area inspired artists. But it wasn't until the middle of the century that the ukiyo-e paintings began to be used to produce wood-block prints. This made the works available to many more people and helped to spread the art form. The two examples on this page are by Hokusai, part of his series "36 Views of Mt. Fuji", that was published in 1823 and introduced the landscape as a subject for the first time.

This form of painting became so popular that the prints were used in the production of wrapping paper by the better department stores. It was this use that made its way to France shortly after Japan was opened to the outside world by Admiral Perry (from Newport, RI) and his black ships of the U.S. Navy. They sailed into Tokyo Bay in 1853 and later returned when the first Japan-U.S. treaty was signed in 1858. From then, the rush was on to visit this exotic land, and those who came returned home laden with gifts and presents wrapped in this beautiful art form.

The top painting is "Red Fuji" and the bottom one is the famous "Wave off Kanagawa"

In France, the new school of young painters known as Impressionists were completely taken with the brilliant colors of the ukiyo-e prints, and the use of only partial figures in the paintings. In Europe, only full figures were painted, but the Japanese artists often painted a head, or the upper torso and head of a figure, or cut off a figures back at the edge of the work.

Several of the Impressionist paintings show ukiyo-e paintings on the walls, and other examples of Japanese objets d'art, or japonisme as they came to be called, on the desks.


Hans Olof Johansson's Floating
World of Cyberspace, a most
extensive collection of ukiyo-e images

Jim Breen's fine collection includes
both images shown here with
his kind permission

Japan-Zone's introduction to the
world of ukiyo-e.

Nagoya TV's Ukiyo-e Museum









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