In the Library: artists of the floating world

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our job is getting to see new acquisitions for the Library before they go out on the shelves. A few weeks ago, these books landed on Ilka's Heale's desk - they are part of the gift collection from York Art Gallery.



Torii Kiyonaga (1752 - 1815) was a Japanese printmaker and painter of the Torii school - a school of ukiyo-e painting and printing founded in Edo (now modern day Tokyo). Born Sekiguchi Shinsuke, he took on Torii Kiyonaga as a nom d'art and for much of his career he portrayed women, for which he was particularly revered.

'Evening by the Sumida River' by Kiyonaga (18th century) from Japanese colour prints : from Harunobu to Utamaro London : Faber and Faber 1952
This print, probably produced about 1784, is of special interest as it attempts to suggest the effect of twilight. It is taken from the book Japanese colour prints: from Harunobu to Utamaro with an introduction and notes by Wilfrid Blunt [London: Faber and Faber 1952]. (Wilfrid Blunt was an art teacher, author and artist, whose brother Anthony was a member of the Cambridge Five, a group of spies working for the Soviet Union from some time in the 1930s to at least the early 1950s.)

The ukiyo-e movement ("pictures of the floating world") is a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that flourished in Japan from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Aimed at the prosperous merchant class in the urbanising Edo period (1603 - 1867), among its popular themes were depictions of women; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; and flora and fauna.

Restored version of Katsushika Hokusai's 'Great Wave off Kanagawa'. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Katsushika Hokusai (1760 - 1849) is probably best known for the woodblock print series 'Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji' which includes the internationally recognised print 'The Great Wave off Kanagawa' created during the 1820s (above). He created the 'Thirty-six Views' both as a response to a domestic travel boom and as part of a personal obsession with Mount Fuji.

'Self-portrait in the age of an old man' by Hokusai  (19th century) from Hokusai : paintings, drawings, and woodcuts London : Phaidon, 1955
The picture above is a self portrait of Hokusai as an old man from 1839 and is taken from Hokusai: paintings, drawings, and woodcuts by J. Hillier [London : Phaidon, 1955].

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861) was one of the last great masters of the ukiyo-e style and was a member of the Utagawa school.  He is known for depictions of the battles of legendary samurai heroes. His artwork incorporated aspects of Western representation in landscape painting and caricature. The picture below, 'Nichiren in the snow', was made by Kuniyoshi around 1835 and is taken from Japanese masters of the colour print; a great heritage of oriental art by J.Hillier [London : Phaidon 1954].

'Nichiren in the snow' by Kuniyoshi (19th century) from Japanese masters of the colour print London : Phaidon 1954

For further reading, you could try these other books on Japanese art in our collection:

Japanese colour prints by Edward F. Strange.
London: Printed for H.M. Stationery Off., by Wyman, 1908.
On the shelves at LK 9.952 STR
And if Japanese comics are more your style...
Manga: sixty years of Japanese comics by Paul Gravett.
New York: Collins Design, 2004
On the shelves at LH 1.5952 GRA

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