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"e" means "image" in the Japanese language. Art friends who encounter the world of Japanese prints for the first time, will soon be confronted with a lot of "-e" words like ukiyo-e or musha-e. Quite frustrating. This article explains 6 of the more common "-e" words: kacho-e, musha-e, nikishi-e, senso-e, sumo-e and ukiyo-e.
First Publication: June 2009
Latest Update: April 2013
Kacho-e are images of birds and flowers. They have a long tradition and have been used in Japanese painting for many centuries. The origins are in the Chinese culture.
Musha-e are images of warriors. Best known artist in this genre was Kuniyoshi Utagawa. With musha-e he became so famous that he was nicknamed "The Warrior Kuniyoshi" by his contemporaries.
Nishiki-e means literally "brocade pictures". But what sounds complicated is actually an easy-brainer. Nishiki-e are simply ukiyo-e in more than one color, in other words multi-color Japanese woodblock prints.
The creation of woodblock prints in more than one color began around 1760. Harunobu Suzuki made them popular and perfected the technique. The principle of creating a woodblock print in more than one color is simple in theory but rather demanding in terms of practical craftsmanship. The Japanese artisans must carve one block for each color.
It is interesting that the technical development of the European art print went into a completely different direction. The Europeans perfected printing in black and white by inventing more efficient techniques that used stone- or steel-plates. But the Europeans used hand-coloring to create art prints in colors.
Senso-e are woodblock prints with war scenes from the Meiji period, especially from the Sino-Japanese (1894/95) and Russo-Japanese (1904/05) war. Senso-e were a big business during the Sino-Japanese war. These woodblock prints were meant as newspaper illustrations from the war front.
The Japanese at home bought them eagerly. Nearly all woodblock artists active at the time of the Sino-Japanese war made senso-e. Under artistic aspects and aspects of impression quality the best are in our view the woodblock prints made by Kiyochika Kobayashi.
The senso-e from the Russo-Japanese war are by far less frequent. Ten years later, people were less interested in woodblock prints. The technique had been replaced by photography. The Japanese war prints from the Russo-Japanese war show often naval scenes. This makes them quite interesting for collectors. Especially collectors from the United Kingdom look out for interesting naval scenes.
Most senso-e are triptychs, by the way.
Sumo-e are images of sumo wrestlers and sumo fights. Such images have been popular during all centuries of Japanese woodblock printmaking. The subject is popular even among contemporary Japanese printmakers. In the 1980s the Japan Sumo Wrestling Association commissioned a series of sumo-e to Daimon Kinoshita, born 1946.
Ukiyo-e means literally "images of the floating world". The best interpretation of "floating world" is the world of amusement - of theaters, women, brothels, restaurants and so on.
The word Ukiyo-e stands roughly for Japanese prints from the 18th and 19th century. Some use the term also as a general word for Japanese prints.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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