Ukiyo-e refers to woodblock prints produced in Japan between the 17th and 19th centuries during the Edo period. The prints depict a large range of subjects including: kabuki actors, wrestlers, flowers, birds, landscapes and folklore. Ukiyo-e prints greatly influenced European artists, starting a Japanese inspired aesthetic referred to as japonisme. The word “ukiyo” literally means, “floating world.”
While the 18th century is known as the height of ukiyo-e prints, westerners are most familiar with the 19th century artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige. It is important to acknowledge the accomplishments of artists from the peak era, such as Kiyonaga, Utamaro and Sharaku.
European artists such as Degas, Monet, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec made prints inspired by ukiyo-e images.
Each ukiyo-e print was made by a team that included an artist, a carver, a printer and a publisher. The artist would design the desired image. The carver would then prepare the necessary blocks, starting with a key block, which contained the outline for the print. The printer would paint the blocks with ink made from organic pigments and then use a hand baron to print the image onto a thin, handmade paper. The publisher would then coordinate the mass-distribution of the prints, across Japan and eventually across the world. Unfortunately the original painting was destroyed in the process.
Ukiyo-e prints remain popular among collectors. Since they were mass-produced there is not an extreme shortage of these prints on the market. Ukiyo-e prints are, however, susceptible to fading and damage due to the fragility of the paper. The value varies depending on the artist, the age of the print and the quality of preservation.
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