Masterpieces of Japanese Prints: Ukiyo-e from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Front Cover
Ever since Japan opened its doors to the West in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Westerners have been fascinated by the exquisite art forms that flourished during the previous two hundred years of self-imposed isolation. Among the most intriguing were the bold yet refined paintings and prints known as ukiyo-e, which portrayed the popular pursuits of the time with extraordinary power. Such was the appeal of this unique art in the West that tens of thousands of superb prints eventually found their way into museum collections around the world.

The present volume highlights over 130 outstanding examples from the vast holdings of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Strikingly original and sumptuously colored, the ukiyo-e in these pages recapture the spirit of the period in which they were created. Here can be found the glamorous courtesans of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, the flamboyant vigor of kabuki theater, and the diversities of the Japanese landscape.

The prints form a breathtaking panorama of the world of ukiyo-e from its inception to its final flowering at the end of the nineteenth century. Complementary texts by Rupert Faulkner and Richard Lane illuminate the craft of woodblock print making and explore the emergence of such versatile geniuses as Hokusai and Hiroshige.

The lasting appeal of Japanese woodblock prints may be rooted in the richness of their imagery and the power of their innovation, or perhaps in their uncanny ability to convey the special vitality of Edo Japan. Whatever the case, this lavish volume seeks not only to pay homage to the Japanese artists and craftsmen who took the woodblock print to unprecedented heights, but also to show the range of this astonishingly versatile art form.

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About the author (1999)

RUPERT FAULKNER is Deputy Curator in the Far Eastern Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, where he has particular responsibility for the collections of Japanese art. Born in Yokohama in 1955 and subsequently educated in Britain, he graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Japanese studies. After joining the V&A in 1984, he set up a database system for recataloguing the V&A's extensive collection of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. He subsequently concentrated his attentions on contemporary Japanese studio crafts, building up the museum's collection in this area and organizing the exhibition, "Japanese Studio Crafts: Tradition and the Avant-Garde." He is currently engaged in the publication of a book on the V&A's collection of ukiyo-e fan prints by Utagawa Hiroshige and a project to examine the relationship between Japanese food culture and the ceramic traditions of Seto and Mino.

RICHARD LANE is a leading American scholar of Japanese prints. He received degrees in Japanese language and literature at the University of Hawaii and Columbia University, doing graduate research at Tokyo, Waseda, and Kyoto universities as well as at the Tokyo National Museum. His publications include Masters of the Japanese Print: Their World and Their Work (1962), Images from the Floating World (1978), and Hokusai: Life and Work (1989), a definitive monograph in English on this major artist.

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