History of Design (Lecture 2) – Ukiyo-e

The term Ukiyo-e direct translates to “pictures of the floating world”. When identified as an art genre, it generally refers to the woodblock prints/painting produced during the 17th-19th century that features the hedonistic lifestyle that the people had during that period. During my research, I came across this print that seemed familiar cause it reminded me of the skeleton monster that was featured in the movie “Kubo and the two strings”.

Princess Takiyasha Summons a Skeleton Spectre to Frighten Mitsukuni, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c. 1844

Set Design of the movie “Kubo and the two strings” , LAIKA, 2016

After some googling, this art piece, Princess Takiyasha Summons a Skeleton Spectre to Frighten Mitsukuni, was by an artist named Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Kuniyoshi’s artistic capabilities were realised at the age of 12 and had been actively producing art ever since. His art features a wide range of themes from warriors to myths to landscapes to samurai cats. In the lecture, we learnt that Ukiyo-e was the main influence for the art movement, Art nouveau. Interestingly, many elements of Kuniyoshi’s works were inspired by Western Art. Kuniyoshi was known for his interesting use of different composition and bold colours in his works.

Sanuki no in kenzoku o shite Tametomo o sukuu zu, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c. 1848-1852

Archer Sinks Enemy Ship, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c. 1843-1846.

Oboshi Rikiya Yoshikane, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c. 1847

Cats, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c. 1839-42

Looking at the intricate details on some of his works makes it almost hard to believe that they were done using woodblock printing; the swirls on each of the fish’s scales for instance. Also the application of colour on each print, to think that one separate woodblock is needed for each colour for each print is pretty insane, considering the range of colours they have on the fully coloured prints, also known as Nishiki-e. I cannot imagine the amount of time and effort these artists put into a single piece of art work back in those days. It makes us appreciate the convenience we have now to mass produce prints.  

Leave a Reply