The best known and most copied Japanese Wood block is probably “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Hokusai created in 1831. I think it is right up there with Picassoo’s “Starry , Starry Night” as far as public popularity.  You can see 3 boats being tossed below a large wave, Mount Fiji is in visible in the background. Mount Fiji is often featured in Hokusai’s work but usually dominates the scene. Here it is diminutive. This was the first in the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.” The inscription in the box top, left reads: “Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji / On the high seas in Kanagawa / Under the wave.”

One of the first creators of Japanese woodblock are  was Hishikawa Moronobu. He gathered the art of various artists and using wood blocks and ink was able to produce many copies of an artists work. These were sold to the Chonin class (affluent merchants, craftsman and workers) who were able to afford such luxuries to decorate their homes.  These required the skills of the artist, a skilled carver to cut the woodblocks-one for each color, the paper maker: each sheet made by hand, and the printer who applied the color inks, and finally a publisher to distributed the works. Because they were done by hand, effects like blending or gradation of colors were possible.


Two Beauties

Lobby of a Brothel

Beauty looking back.

  1 Reference

Some where around the 17th century a new form of art appeared in Japan. Woodblock printing allowed artists to make copies of their drawings, often of Kabuki actors, historical scenes, landscape, fauna and more. The process required carving elements of an original art work into a number of wooden blocks, one for each color in the image. The wood blocks were brushed with an ink color then stamped onto paper. The process continued for each color. The art was called Ukiyo-e, after the urban lifestyle of 16th century Japan, Ukiyo (The Floating World).