Ukiyo-E | Masters of Tradition

On View April 16, 2017 through April 24, 2018.


The ZMA’s works on paper gallery currently features Japanese woodblock prints from the museum’s permanent collection. These colorful and dramatic prints, called ukiyo-e, which translates to pictures of the floating world, illustrate a unique time in Japanese culture. The emergence of these prints corresponded with great social change in Japan. Years of war and economic strife during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573–1603) gave way to prosperity during the Edo Period (1603–1868). The emergence of a wealthy merchant and middle class coincided with new forms of popular entertainment and ukiyo-e prints that symbolized a vital culture. During the Edo Period, printers and publishers catered to the nouveau riche and mass-produced images featuring scenes from classic stories and the natural world. Cherry blossoms were a popular motif in woodblock prints, and these delicate blooms symbolized joy and the transience of earthly beauty. The popularity of ukiyo-e prints spread beyond Japan’s borders after they were featured at the 1886
Exposition Universelle in Paris, France.

Ukiyo-e prints are a small but significant part of the ZMA’s works on paper collection.

From left to right: Hiroshige, Koi(Carp), c. 1835, colored woodblock print. Purchase, Friends of Art, 10459

Hiroshige, Interior with Four Figures, 1845, colored woodblock print. Gift of Mrs. Betty Hay Miller, 1964.11191

Hiroshige, Otokoyama Hill in Kawachi, 1853-1856, colored woodblock print. Gift of Mrs. R.G. Hay, 10412

Utagawa Kunisada, Garden Exterior Scene, c. 1820, colored woodblock print. Gift of Mr. Clay and Mrs. Arline Littick