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 nishiki-e (full-color print) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi is from the series Tōto (Scenes of the capital). Although Kuniyoshi began a humble career as an ukiyo-e artist, his dynamic style as well as unique wit and humor eventually became popular across different classes of Japanese society. He actively experimented with a wide variety of techniques and themes, particularly with the realism of Western arts in the 1830s. Here he demonstrates the use of perspective by blurring the mountains and boats in the background, while making crisp images of the figures in the forefront. Kuniyoshi was known for including detailed, portrait-like depictions of people in his landscape imagery.
Note: From the series: Tōto : Scenes of the Capital.
Place: East Asia; Japan
Institution: Library of Congress
Physical description: 1 print : woodcut, color ; 25.6 x 37.3 centimeters