Please click on the links to see examples of the respective artists offered in the Online Gallery. If you don’t see the ukiyo-e or shin hanga artist you are looking for, please contact us, as we have many prints that are not displayed online.
What is ukiyo-e
Ukiyo-e, meaning “pictures of the floating world”, are what we in the west know simply as “Japanese prints”. Produced between about 1650 and 1900 for consumption primarily by the huge population of sophisticated urbanites living in Edo (now Tokyo), ukiyo-e reflect their passionate pursuit of the “floating world” of pleasure. Stately courtesans on promenade, kabuki actors in mid-performance; these snapshots were bought as fond reminders of nights since fled. Landscape prints became popular subject matter in their own right in the 1830s, popularized by the great works of Hiroshige and Hokusai. Erotic prints, often astonishingly graphic or wistfully tender, were produced by all the major artists, and certainly form one aspect of the “floating world”.
The earliest ukiyo-e prints were produced around 1660 by an artist known only as the “Kambun master”. These monochrome prints were followed by hand-colored prints, by two- or three- colored benizuri-e, and in 1765 Harunobu is credited with producing the first nishiki-e, or full-color print. This tradition continued unbroken, passed along from master to student, until the advent of the twentieth century. Prints produced in the traditional manner until about 1900 may still be termed ukiyo-e.
Woodblock prints were produced not by a single individual, but were the result of concerted efforts by a highly skilled and specialized team. The publisher would commission an ukiyo-e artist to produce a design in the form of a finished drawing, which was transferred to a woodblock via an engraver and then hand-printed by a printer. Each color represents a separately carved woodblock. Up to twenty separate blocks could have been carved for a single print. As anyone who has tried their hand at woodcarving can attest, enormous skill was needed to accurately cut the fine lines, to give life to the foam on a wave in a Hokusai design or a blossom on a cherry tree by Hiroshige.
Many prominent 19th century western artists collected Japanese prints and were strongly influenced by them, including Van Gogh, Monet and Whistler.
The standard “guide” in English to the world of the Japanese woodblock print remains “Images from the Floating World”, by Richard Lane. Scholarly attention and exhibitions devoted to ukiyo-e have been increasing in recent years, and many fine catalogs are available. Books written by Shugo Asano, Timothy Clark, Matthi Forrer, Jack Hillier, Roger Keyes, Richard Lane, Shigera Oikawa, or Henry D. Smith II are especially recommended, although there are other laudable scholars, both Japanese and western.
Approximate dimensions of some common Ukiyo-e print sizes are as follows (height preceding width):
• chûban: 260 x 190 mm
• aiban: 342 x 225 mm
• ôban: 380 x 255 mm
• hosoban: 330 x 145 mm
• chû-tanzaku: 380 x 130 mm
• kakuban (shikishi-ban): 212 x 182 mm
• hashira-e: 730 x 120 mm
• kakemono-e: 765 x 230 mm
What is shin hanga
Shin hanga are twentieth-century Japanese prints that are considered the heirs to the celebrated Ukiyo-e tradition of the previous 250 years. The term shin-hanga, meaning literally “new prints” was actually coined by the publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô (1885-1962) in 1915. He was in a prime position to select the term as he was responsible for publishing some of the greatest shin-hanga works, including those by Hasui, Shinsui, and Shunsen, among others.
Shin-hanga prints were produced within the traditional Japanese system of printmaking, whereby an artist produced a design, the design was transferred onto a series of woodblocks by skilled engravers and printed by professional printers; a triumvirate organized and presided over by the publisher.
The highest levels of craftsmanship were thus ensured, as both printing and engraving required the skill of many years of apprenticeship. Shin hanga differ from sosaku-hanga prints, in which the artist carried out the Western idea of being responsible for all aspects of producing the prints, although in the majority of cases the skill of the artist was far short of those of the professional carver in carving and of the professional printer in printing.
Although both Hashiguchi Goyô and Hiroshi Yoshida are considered Shin hanga artists, and began their careers designing for Watanabe’s studio, both rather quickly established their own studios to exert full control over the artisans they hired to transform their designs into prints. Yoshida, to achieve the effect that he wanted, went as far as to employ up to ninety six color impressions for a single print. Shin hanga echo Ukiyo-e in another way; portraits of beautiful women and actors; bird-and-flower pictures and landscape scenery comprise the subject matter. (For an excellent discussion of Shin-hanga, see the beautiful catalog Shin-hanga; New prints in modern Japan, published in 1996 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, written by Hollis Goodall-Cristante and Ken Brown.)