Ukiyo-e paintings and prints: the late period

The year 1765 was a turning-point for colour woodblock printing in Japan. Full-colour woodblock printing was introduced, typically using between eight and twelve blocks, and quickly become standard practice. The Ukiyo-e school reached new heights during the late eighteenth century. Despite periodic attempts by the government to strengthen censorship, artists such as Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815), Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825), and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864) flourished. Kitagawa Utamaro (died 1806), the outstanding artist of pictures of bijinga ('beautiful women'), and Tōshūsai Sharaku (worked 1794-5), renowned for his penetrating portraits of Kabuki actors, produced designs of exquisite skill and subtlety.

Major new genres evolved in the early nineteenth century - the landscape prints of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) and the warrior prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861).

With the social reforms and westernization following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the cultural milieu of the 'floating world' was steadily transformed. In spite of the efforts of a few outstanding artists, notably Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92), the Ukiyo-e school had all but disappeared by 1900. However, by then the traditional Ukiyo-e print had already achieved a major impact on Western artists, fuelling the craze for 'Japonisme' in the 1870s and 1880s.

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