There were thousands of Ukiyo-e artists, however, three stand out. They are Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Utamaro Courtesan Ukiyoe
Utamaro Kitagawa is highly appreciated as the dominating Ukiyo-e artist of the late eighteenth century. Yet little is known about his life. Neither the precise date of Utamaro’s birth, his birthplace, nor any substantial information about his parents is known.
The original name of Utamaro was Ichitaro Kitagawa. It is generally agreed that he started his career as a pupil of the painter Toriyama Sekien. His early known works were actor portraits and theater programs, published under the name of Utagawa Toyoaki. In 1781 or 1782 he changed his name to Utamaro Kitagawa. Around 1783 Utamaro started a successful cooperation with the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo. Together they published several book illustrations. The early works of Utamaro were influenced by Torii Kiyonaga and Harunobu. Beginning in 1791 Utamaro concentrated his work on single portraits of women. He took his models from the street or from the Yoshiwara pleasure district. The stories of his love affairs with the ladies of the Yoshiwara are said to be abundant. Read more on “Ukiyoe – Art for the Masses – Part 3 – Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige” »
Although the artist typically received all the credit for the prints, there were four people involved with the making of the prints: The artist who drew the prints and decided on the color scheme, the publisher who commissioned and managed the work, the printer who created the final prints and the carver who cut the wood blocks out of cherry, pear or other similar types of wood. The process started with a black-ink wood block and then graduated to multiple-color wood blocks which ultimately produced the final print.
Read more on “Ukiyoe – Art for the Masses – Part 2 – How Ukiyoe Were Made” »
Hokusai's 36 Views of Mt. Fuji
Wood-block prints (Ukiyoe in Japanese) are perhaps one of the most recognizable art forms around the world, and are instantly recognizable worldwide as being uniquely Japanese. Because many of these prints were based on everyday life, they provide a view into Japan’s past.
Around the world, art has been reserved for the elite. However, because Ukiyoe were mass produced, this allowed the artists to sell the prints at reduced costs. This, combined with the subject material of the prints, made Ukiyoe very popular with the middle and lower classes of the Edo period (1600 – 1868). Today there are many avid collectors, with more every day. In addition, they were enthusiastically collected by impressionist artists such as Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, whose work was profoundly influenced by them.