More than 100 precious Ukiyoe art works spanning the past 350 years form a showcase of the traditional Japanese art of woodblock prints. Ukiyoe -- interpreted as "pictures of the floating world" -- is mainly themed on beauty, Kabuki, local custom, landscape and historical events.
The show is held at Beijing World Art Museum in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations.
Ukiyoe art was a popular style of the Japanese Edo Period in the 17th century. The word originally comes from the Buddhist term, indicating that the floating world is actually a sorrowful world with fluctuations beyond the control of human beings. It is also a term used to describe the Japanese urban lifestyle of that time which emphasizes the enjoyment of simplicity.
The art catered to the need of popular enjoyment and mass aesthetics, against the historical background of a relatively flourishing period when the society was stable and the civic culture was emphasized.
The painting school was founded by Moronobu Hishikawa (1618-94) and included other notable artists such as Harunobu Suzuki (1725-70), Kiyoinaga Torii (1752-1812), Utamaro Kitagawa (1754-1806), Hoksai Katshika (1760-1849) and Sharaku Toshusai 1794-1895). Works from these artists are on display, showcasing the evolution of the style.
Harunobu Suzuki is famed for his multi-processed color woodprint, mainly featuring pure and refined beauty. Kiyoinaga Torii, whose works are always diptych and triptych, endows healthy images with fluent lines and vivid colors. Utamaro Kitagawa focuses on the depiction of detailed skin and cloth, neglecting the background. Hoksai Katshika breaks from the traditional theme of beauty, instead depicting landscapes and seascapes with unconstrained technique and free composition. Sharaku Toshusai takes the attention of viewers by exaggerating facial expressions and appealing accessories.
Ukiyoe paintings of the later generations further expand the traditional genre. The work Torrential Downpours and the Bridge, created by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), captures people's reaction to an instantaneous phenomenon, diverging from his predecessors by emphasizing dynamic movement instead of a static scene. Taking a bird-eye's view, the artist portrays the evanescent effect of the rain and the running people, transmitting strong impressionist flavor.
Ukiyoe art had a strong impact on the Western Impressionists in the 19th century, providing inspiration for Monet, Van Gogh and others in their exploration of an oriental painting language. The two-dimensional and plane painting technique provided Western artists with freedom of execution. Monet's famous Lily Pond series shows influence from Harunobu Suzuki's works.
The show features a series of lectures, as well as activities for visitors.
Text by Wu Liping and photo by Jiang Dong
9am-5pm, to Dec 22. Beijing World Art Museum, China Millennium Monument, A9 Fuxinglu, Haidian District. 6851-3322.
(Beijing Weekend November 28, 2007)