August 11, 2011

Picture of Flourishing America

After nearly two centuries of restricted foreign contact, Japan became increasingly exposed to Western culture in the 1850s as new trade agreements prompted cross-cultural interaction. The influx of unfamiliar technology and customs gave rise to anxiety as well as awe among the Japanese people, whose curiosity about the external world is evident in the detailed depictions of foreign subjects by ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) artists. The sources of these depictions were not only eyewitness accounts, but also borrowed imagery from secondary material, such as engravings in Western journals and newspapers. Even though the title of this triptych print by Utagawa Hiroshige II refers to “flourishing America,” the architecture depicted can be traced to an illustration of Fredericksburg Castle (near Copenhagen, Denmark) in the March 7, 1860, issue of the Illustrated London News. Hiroshige II (circa 1842–94) was the pupil and adopted son of the great landscape master, Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858).

The Actor Ichikawa Danzō

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. Shunshō (1726–93) was a leading artist of the Katsukawa school, which emphasized realism rather than idealistic or dream-like portrayals of traditional ukiyo-e subjects. He helped develop nishiki-e (full-color prints) in 1765, along with artist Suzuki Harunobu. Shunshō particularly revolutionized actor prints in 1770 by introducing nigao-e, half-length portraits with detailed facial features, rather than the conventional full-length portrait. This print of the actor Ichikawa Danzō is from the series Ehon Butai Ōgi (Illustrated book of fan-framed actors), in which he first demonstrated this style.

The Actor Nakajima Kanzaemon

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. Shunshō (1726–93) was a leading artist of the Katsukawa school, which emphasized realism rather than idealistic or dream-like portrayals of traditional ukiyo-e subjects. He helped develop nishiki-e (full-color prints) in 1765, along with artist Suzuki Harunobu. Shunshō particularly revolutionized actor prints in 1770 by introducing nigao-e, half-length portraits with detailed facial features, rather than the conventional full-length portrait. This print of the actor Nakajima Kanzaemon is from the series Ehon Butai Ōgi (Illustrated book of fan-framed actors), in which he first demonstrated this style.

Sunshū ejiri

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. Katsushika Hokusai was an artist and woodblock printer who contributed greatly to bringing ukiyo-e landscape imagery to a pinnacle, along with his rival Utagawa Hiroshige. His landscapes were more imaginative than naturalistic, rendered with a dynamic personal style and highly skilled observation of the scenery. Forming part of his series Fugaku Sanjūrokkei (36 views of Mount Fuji), this image contrasts the stately mountain with a strong gust of wind that is blowing away the kaishi (paper used as handkerchiefs or to jot down poems) and hats of the struggling wayfarers.

The Water's Surface at Misaka in Koshu

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. Katsushika Hokusai was an artist and woodblock printer who contributed greatly to bringing ukiyo-e landscape imagery to a pinnacle, along with his rival Utagawa Hiroshige. His landscapes were more imaginative than naturalistic, rendered with a dynamic personal style and highly skilled observation of the scenery. This image forms part of his series Fugaku Sanjūrokkei (36 views of Mount Fuji), and is a witty portrayal of two seasons: while the actual scenery seems to be in summertime, the Mt. Fuji reflected in the left foreground of the lake is capped with snow. In addition, the panoramic view of the mountain range is not consistent with the reflection of Mt. Fuji, which can only be seen in this way by looking up from the side of the lake.

Sanogawa Ichimatsu III in the Role of the Courtesan Onnayo of Gion and Ichikawa Tomieimon in the Role of Kanisaka Tōma

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. This print is a modern reproduction of an older work by Tōshusai Sharaku, an artist who produced actor prints of radical design during a short period of ten months in 1794–95. Sharaku’s identity and existence remain a mystery, however, as there are no records relating to the rest of his life. He was unique in his frank portrayal of his subjects, which revealed the interplay between the actor in his role as a fictional character and as an individual. The image is based on a popular kabuki-kyōgen (comedy play). The two seemingly disparate characters are masterfully connected through opposition, expressed in their facial features, such as the face line, eyes, and eyebrows. The resulting image contrasts the proud and glamorous demeanor of the courtesan Onnayo with the petty appearance of her opponent, a minor character in the play.