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The Floating World: Printmaking Techniques in Japanese Ukiyo-e

September 8, 2018 - March 23, 2019

Boyle Gallery

Floating World - Hokusai
Floating World - Kunisato

During the Edo period (1603-1868), the government of Japan ruled its people through a strictly enforced social hierarchy. Within this structure, most forms of self-expression were banned entirely or limited to a select few deemed socially acceptable. Only Japan’s most affluent could afford to display their interests openly, through objects such as fine robes, carvings, pottery and gold-leaf paintings. These modes of expression were expensive and unavailable to most people living within Japan. However, during the early 17th century, Japanese artists and publishers began popularizing printmaking techniques unavailable to most people within Japan’s urban centers. These prints depicted almost dreamlike versions of everyday sights, which earned them the name Ukiyo-e, translated roughly as portraits of the floating world. Because these surreal depictions of Japanese society could be repeated dozens of times, prints were relatively affordable means of self-expression. Eventually, they spread to fill nearly every home in Japan, despite their owner’s standing in the social hierarchy. Popular subjects included serene landscapes, well-known pleasure districts, historical events, attractive women and famous figures in both sports and entertainment.

  •  Funded in part by University of Wyoming Art Museum Gala Funds



Left/Top: Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760-1849), Poem by Yamabe no Akahito from the Series One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse, ca. 1835-1836, woodblock print on rice paper, 9-7/8 x 14-1/2 inches, friends of the UW Art Museum purchase, 1983.14

Right/Bottom: Utagawa Kunisato (Japanese, d. 1858), Untitled, not dated, woodblock print on rice paper, 13-9/16 x 9-5/8 inches, friends of the UW Art Museum purchase, 1979.49

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