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Ukiyo-e is in simplified terms a synonym for Japanese prints. Ukiyo-e artists are appreciated by collectors all over the world. Many contemporary printmakers collect Japanese prints out of admiration of the technical skill and sophistication with which they were produced.
This is a small collection of famous ukiyo-e artists. It concentrates on names which a new collector of ukiyo-e will frequently find in galleries, art auctions and museums.
Harunobu is famous for being one of the early printmakers who took full advantage of the invention of multi-color (polychrome) printing. His prints depict the life of the noblemen, charming girls and courtesans in Edo (former name for Tokyo).
Toyokuni was the son of a puppet maker. His favorite subjects are actor prints. He was a highly recognized and popular member of the Utagawa school. His pupils quarrelled to adopt their master's artist name after his death. The best-known is Kunisada who later called himself Toyokuni. He is referred to as Toyokuni III.
Utamaro's first ukiyo-e were portraits of Kabuki actors. Later he took the name of Utamaro and devoted himself to images of beautiful women from the pleasure quarters of Edo. His trademark are idealized women with extremely tall and slender bodies. The heads are twice longer than broad. The noses are extremely long and the eyes and the mouth are depicted as tiny little slits. He was said to have had numerous love affairs with the ladies from the pleasure quarters. In 1804 he was arrested and shortly detained for violation of censorship laws. This incident apparently broke him mentally and psychologically and he died two years later.
After Utamaro's death, Eizan became the leading artist in "bijin" (beautiful women) prints. His style is similar to Utamaro's late ukiyo-e. Other favorite subjects by Eizan are actor prints and shunga (erotic pictures). Eizan retired from his work about 1830.
Eisen Ikeda was a pupil of Kikugawa Eizan. Among the ukiyo-e artists he is one of the prolific ones. His favorite subjects were "bijin" (beautiful women), shunga prints (erotic prints) and landscapes. A few of his later ukiyo-e were produced in collaboration with Hiroshige.
Ando Hiroshige was born as the son of a fire warden. He started his career as a woodblock engraver. Hiroshige's fame is based on his landscape designs. Very famous are his prints of the Tokaido, a highway system in ancient Japan. Hiroshige produced more than 30 series of the Tokaido. Famous are also his bird and flower prints. His compositions were influenced by Western art. Posthumously they had a great impact on Western art, especially on the French impressionists.
Hokusai was entirely possessed by the art of Ukiyo-e and painted until his death. His greatest masterpieces are the 46 pictures of the 36 views of Mt. Fuji. It took him 10 years to complete this series. Hokusai was a prolific artist with about 30,000 different prints in all. Like the great composer Beethoven, he was a restless man. He changed his residence 93 times during his lifetime - at least according to his own biography. Hokusai is seen as one of the very best ukiyo-e artists of the late Edo period.
Kunisada started his career as a pupil of Toyokuni I whose name he adopted in 1844 as Toyokuni III. He changed his names several times - a fact that is a bit confusing for the less experienced Ukiyo-e collector. In Ukiyo-e literature and catalogues he is mostly referred to as Kunisada, Toyokuni III or Gototei. Kunisada was not only an excellent print maker but also an excellent business man who had great commercial success with his ukiyo-e prints.
Like Kunisada, Kuniyoshi started as a pupil of Utagawa Toyokuni I. He became both a painter and printmaker. He was not as popular as Kunisada during his life time and had some hard times to overcome. It is said that in his younger years he had to repair and sell floor mats to make a living. His style and subjects embrace a wide variety from landscapes, Kabuki portraits, heroic episodes to some rather bizarre prints. He also experimented somewhat with Western styles.
Yoshitoshi is considered to be one of the greatest artists of the Meiji era. He started his career as a pupil of Kuniyoshi. During his lifetime, Yoshitoshi produced many series - the most famous ones are the "100 Aspects of the Moon" and series about beautiful women and his ghost series. Yoshitoshi's life was rather tough. Apparently repelled by his father, he was brought up by an uncle. Until his early forties, Yoshitoshi's life was a struggle for financial survival. In his late years, he finally found public recognition and commercial success.
Yoshitoshi suffered from depression and mental illness and died at the age of 53 from a cerebral hermorrhage. His popularity continued for some more years and then he was nearly forgotten. He was rediscovered in the second half of the 20th century and is now very popular among collectors - especially in North America.
Kunichika was a pupil of Chikanobu and of Kunisada. He choose the name Kunichika which is a combination of the names of his two masters. His favorite subjects were Kabuki actors and historical scenes. Kunichika is considered as one of the last traditional ukiyo-e artists.
Koson Ohara is famous for his prints with animal subjects. They were rather popular in his time in the U.S. and hundreds of his bird prints were exported to the United States. Many of these prints were produced for export purposes. He worked both as a painter and a print maker. His origins as a painter are reflected in his prints. Indeed, some give the impression of watercolor paintings. This ukiyo-e artist is found with different writings of his name - Ohara Hoson and Ohara Shoson.
Like Paul Jacoulet, Elizabeth Keith is one of the few foreigners successful in ukiyo-e printmaking. She was born in England and came to Japan in 1915 for the first time. She made several trips throughout Asia and started a career as an artist in Japan. In 1920 she was discovered by the print publisher Watanabe. Under his guidance, she started making woodblock prints. In her late years she returned to England.
Hasui Kawase is one of the best known artists of the Shin Hanga (new prints) movement. His prints are highly in demand among collectors. The designs, mostly landscapes, are kept in Western style. Hasui had a very close cooperation with the publisher Watanabe. In the fires following the devastating earthquake in 1923, over a hundred blocks produced so far, were destroyed. In 1956, one year before his death, Hasui Kawase was declared a Living National Treasure.
Hiroshi Yoshida is considered to be one of the greatest artists of the Shin Hanga movement. He traveled a lot and many of his print subjects are impressions from his travels all over the world. So you can find prints with subjects you normally would not expect on Japanese woodblock prints like Indian elephants or a mountain landscape in Alaska. His prints are highly in demand and expensive.
Paul Jacoulet was a native French born in Paris. In 1906, at the age of 4. he came to Japan with his parents where he quickly adopted the Japanese culture. He made several trips to the South Seas. Subjects with portraits of islanders from the South Sea make a great part of his prints. During World War II he remained in Japan but moved from Tokyo to Karuizawa. He can be best characterized as a synthesis of a French artist and a Japanese woodblock printer.
Toshi Yoshida was the eldest son of Hiroshi Yoshida. Like his father he undertook extensive travels all over the world. His trips took him to the U.S., Canada, India, Africa, Australia and even to the Antarctica. Many of his print subjects are focused on landscapes depicted in a realistic style. After the death of his father he experimented with abstract designs but returned to figural ukiyo-e.
Search our database for Ukiyo-e artists.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
(November 2001, updated April 2009)
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