Capturing images of the 'fleeting world'
The artistic style of print-making and book illustration that was prevalent in Japan from the 17 th to 19 th century. The word 'ukiyo-e' is a term that figuratively translates as 'images from the fleeting/floating world', in reference to the styles dedication to capturing the images of every-day life; depictions of scenes and situations taken from the leisure moments of daily living. This was the main inspiration for the themes that most of the print-makers of this style based themselves on and their art was very popular among the middle classes.
Japanese bourgeoisie art
The merchants and even the commoners of Japan were enjoying their first state of affluence in a very long time, but the strict social structure in Japan forbade anyone but aristocracy from buying estates or land -and certainly forbade improving their social status by marrying into aristocratic families. The nouveau-riche middle-class of Japan then spent their fortunes on Kabuki theatre and party games, dressing up in high style and flaunting all the signs of extravagance that were permissible by law. This style, having come from the theatre and reflecting a common perspective on life, understandably didn't get the Imperial stamp of approval and so was thus consigned mostly to the Japanese bourgeoisie, but the artists of this style are acclaimed for their gift of coloring, technique and design.
The Ukiyo-e dynasty of artists
They are best known for making extremely fine-quality, extravagantly colorful and complicated polychromatic prints from wood engravings. The most famous names of the style are Hishikawa Moronobu, Isoda Koryusai, Torii Kiyohiro, Torii Kiyonaga, Tosa Mitsunaga, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Utagawa Kunisada, Utagawa Toyokuni I, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Ando Hiroshige, Ando Kaigetsudo, Nishikawa Sukenobu, Toshusai Sharaku, Katsukawa Shunsho and Kitagawa Utamaro, whose prints are well known in the Western art market and whose influences reached all the way to the French painters of the late 19 th century. Katsushika Hakusai was also well-known for his paintings and prints; depicting landscapes and scenes from fairy tales, images taken from the Kabuki theatre, lovely and delicate drawings of flowers, wildlife and animals. He illustrated books and also wrote a famous, thirteen part book called “Mangeh” or “Drawings” that influenced such artists as Manet and Dega. Nonomura Sotatsu is also a famous name of the style and his influence touched many of the painters and printmakers that came after him.