Ukiyo-E | Masters of Tradition

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

The ZMA’s works on paper gallery featured 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 richeand 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.

Cherry Blossom at Genji’s Rokujô Mansion, dating from 1854 and created by Utagawa Kunisada I (1786-1864), is based on a scene from The Tale of Genji, authored by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the eleventh century. In this work, as the Third Princess steps onto the veranda to find her black and white cat, she catches the eye of the broken-hearted Prince Genji. The blushing princess sees the prince under the cherry blossom tree. The popularity of ukiyo-e prints spread beyond Japan’s borders after they were featured at the 1886 Exposition Universellein Paris, France. Ukiyo-eprints 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