Woodblock Prints

Japanese Woodblock Prints, mostly from the later Edo Period (1603-1868).

`The story of the beautiful is already complete - hewn in the marvels of the Parthenon - and embroidered, with birds, upon the fan of Hokusai at the foot of Fujiyama` J.A.M.Whistler, 1885.

 

Japanese things...conjure a picture of a place, where sensations are always new, where art pours out of daily life, where everything exists in a dream of endless beautiful flow - Edmund de Waal

 

`I have never confided to you the extent to which the Japanese Print per se has inspired me. I never got over my first experience with it and I shall never, probably, recover. I hope I shan`t.` Frank Lloyd Wright 1954.

More Original Woodblocks on the way so check in again soon !

A - Ando Hiroshige

A - Ando Hiroshige

Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) was a low-ranking samurai whose family held a hereditary position in the Edo fire brigade and yet he became the greatest landscape Japanese woodblock artist. He capitalized on the tradition of ``meisho``, which were pictures of famous places with seasonal and poetic associations that appealed to most Japanese. While Hiroshige was very accurate in his topographical detail he added a distinctive freshness by his unusual view points, striking colours and seasonal allusions all of which lifted him above the rest of his contemporaries even, in my view, above his famous contemporary Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Hiroshige travelled extensively sketching and observing the landscapes within Japan from which travels came many of his series of prints, ``The Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido`` and the ``One Hundred Famous views of Edo`` being two of the most popular.

The print shown on the Woodblock Prints page is a posthumous portrait of Hiroshige by Kunisada. Hiroshige`s farewell poem on the print reads:
Upon the eastern road
My brush i`ve left behind
Now on a journey through the skies
I go to see the famous places
In the Western Paradise

 

In a way all my work is founded on Japanese art - Vincent Van Gogh

B - Utagawa Kunisada

B - Utagawa Kunisada

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864) was one of the great, yet strangely under-rated, ukiyo-e woodblock artists known mostly for his figures, beautifull women, poets and Kabuki theatre prints.During his lifetime he was more popular and more financially successful than his contemporaries Hiroshige and Hokusai. Around 1857 he combined with Hiroshige to produce their `Fifty-three Stations by Two Artists` series for which Kunisada did the figures and Hiroshige did the landscapes. He was a skilled `haikai` and `kyoka` poet and drinking companion of the literary luminaries of his time.

C - Kuniyoshi

C - Kuniyoshi

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) was a rival to the skill and imagination of Hokusai, Hiroshige and Kunisada in the 19th Century Edo period. Kuniyoshi specialised in dramatic portrayals of samurai warriors from Japan`s past although he also was very skilled in his images of beautiful women, landscapes and Kabuki theatre actors. Kuniyoshi may have designed as many as ten thousand woodblock prints and his most popular sold up to eight thousand impressions at very affordable prices at the time (little more than a double portion of soba noodles !).

D - Manga Books

D - Manga Books

Japanese Woodblock printed books of the Edo period are probably best known because of Hokusai`s wonderful Manga Sketchbooks but they were a very popular format with many other artists. They are the original Manga Story Books and they are the forefathers of todays very different Manga Comic Strips. Sometimes they were sketches of the beautiful  countryside of Japan, sometimes they were sketches of the varied people at work and at play and sometimes the books told a particular story or legend. They are hard to find in their original, complete state as they were often cut up and sold as individual sheets to make more profit for careless and greedy dealers. 

E - Hokusai, Katsushika

E - Hokusai, Katsushika

Katshusika Hokusai (1760-1849) is perhaps the most famous of Japanese Woodblock artists of the Edo period and indeed of any period. His draughtsmanship is superb as can be seen in all his work, especially his Manga Sketchbooks.Along with Hiroshige he had a huge influence on Western Art through Manet, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and most of the Impressionists. His `Great Wave` has become one of the most iconic images in the world. He was hugely prolific and over artistic career that spanned seventy years he created a wonderful and wide range of works; landscapes, kabuki actors, birds, flowers, animals, erotic (shunga) and contemporary life captured in his Manga Sketchbooks.

Unfortunately we don`t have any individual Hokusai Prints for sale at this moment but see our `Manga Books` section for Hokusai Manga Sketchbooks for Sale.

F - Chikanobu, Toyohara

F - Chikanobu, Toyohara

Toyohara Chikanobu (1832-1912).In his younger days, he had studied the Kano School of painting; but his interest was drawn to ukiyo-e. He studied with a disciple of Keisai Eisen and then he joined the school of Kuniyoshi. During this period, he called himself Yoshitsuru. After Kuniyoshi’s death, he studied with Kunisada for awhile. He also referred to himself as Yōshū . He went on to become a student of Toyohara Kunichika. He took both the last name and the second part chika of his master's first name - following an old tradition of the way an artist's name was inherited from master to student. Chikanobu was a very fine Woodblock Artist of the Meiji period and is particularly known for his Jidai Kagami - Mirror of the Ages series showing beautiful women (Bijin Awase)

G - Shunga Prints

G - Shunga Prints

Please note that some of these images are sexually explicit and may offend.

Translated literally, the Japanese word `shunga` means pictures of spring; spring being a common euphemism for sex. Shunga prints were enjoyed by men and women of all classes. Superstitions and customs surrounding shunga suggest this to us as it was considered a lucky charm against death for a Samurai to carry shunga (hence the postcard size of some of the prints) and it was considered a protection against fire in merchant warehouses and the home. From this we can deduce that samurai, Chonin (social class containing merchants and the like) and even housewives all owned shunga. It was traditional to present a bride with shunga.

After 1722 most artists refrained from signing shunga as an edict made it necessary to have permission from the city commisioner to print them which naturally forced many underground. Some of the artists circumvented this by `hiding` their  signatures on fans, screens and the like. The story of each shunga can be found in the accompanying texts within the pictures themselves and in the symbols of the props in the background. Symbolism featured widely which would have been understood by the viewers at the time. Such as the use of plum blossoms to represent virginity or tissues to indicate ejaculation. There were obvious symbols as cherries and others such as plums which represented older men who ripened with age, chrysanthemums symbolised the anus and azeleas homosexual love.

`The other day I bought some albums of Japanese obscenities. They delight me, amuse me, and charm my eyes.I look on them as being beyond obscenity, which is there, yet seems not to be there, and which I do not see, so completely does it disappear into fantasy.

The violence of the lines, the unexpectedness of the accessories, the caprice in the poses and the objects, the picturesqueness, and, so to speak, the landscape of the genital parts. Looking at them, I think of Greek art, boredom in perfection, an art that will never free itself from the crime of being academic !` Edmond de Goncourt in his Journal October 1863.

For further in-depth information we recommend reading `Sex and the Floating World. Erotic Images in Japan 1700-1820` written by Timon Screech. 

H - Japanese Woodblock Prints - Various Artists

H - Japanese Woodblock Prints - Various Artists

Woodblock Prints by Yoshitoshi (Yoshitoshi Tsukioka `Taiso` 1839-1892) and other Artists from the Edo Period and also the Meiji Period (1868-1912).