Japan art and Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Creme de la creme of ukiyo-e

Japan art and Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Creme de la creme of ukiyo-e

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi is among the greatest ukiyo-e artists to grace Japan. He died during the last years of the Edo Period. However, even in modern Japan, his name is remembered by experts of Japanese art to people who visit art museums from time to time.

Kuniyoshi lived and breathed the floating world. Hence, the dynamics of ukiyo-e, where subject themes are plentiful – to say the least – enticed his creativity. Thus Kuniyoshi created amazing landscapes, beautiful ladies, mythical animals, kabuki actors, sinister-related themes, and more mundane themes.

The Ota Memorial Museum of Art says, “…After an unsuccessful period, he made a big breakthrough in his early thirties with the series “One Hundred and Eight Heroes from Tales of the Water Margin.” Since then, he worked energetically on all kinds of genres of ukiyo-e including “musha-e (warrior pictures)” of heroes, “giga (caricatures)”, landscapes, “bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women)”, “yakusha-e (portraits of kabuki actors)”, and pictures for children…”

Kuniyoshi also helped the next generation of artists to prosper and develop. Thus the longevity of his art continued in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and new internal artistic movements that admired his art of beautiful ladies – and so much more.

The British Museum says,  “One of the three principal ‘Ukiyo-e’ artists of the late Edo period, together with Kunisada (Toyokuni III) and Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi is particularly noted for his warrior prints and prints of bizarre and comic subjects. He also did fine Western-style landscape prints during the 1830s and early 40s. Kuniyoshi had an extremely fertile imagination and produced a steady stream of novel innovations: he served as a source of vital energy in the late ‘Ukiyo-e’ world.”

It is also nice to note that Kuniyoshi and other ukiyo-e artists often depicted ordinary working-class Japanese workers in their respective landscapes. This is a far cry from many elite Western artists who glossed over the life of ordinary people during this period of history.


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