Ukiyo-e, ukiyo-ye or ukiyo-ê (浮世絵, "portraits of the floating world" in a literal sense), commonly also known as Japanese print, is a genre of woodcut and painting that thrived in Japan between the 17th and 19th centuries. It was initially intended for consumption by the merchant class of the Edo period (1603 - 1867).

Among the most popular subjects covered were female beauty; kabuki theater; sumo wrestlers; historical scenes and folk legends; travel scenes and landscapes; fauna and flora; and pornography.

Some of the artists devoted themselves to painting, but most were printmakers. Such individuals rarely carved their own print blocks. Instead, production was divided between the artist, who created the work;

the woodcutter, who engraved the art on the blocks; the printer, who painted and pressed the blocks onto the washis; and the publisher, who financed, promoted, and distributed the works. Being a craft, printmakers could master and employ a wide variety of effects from different techniques impractical in mechanized production, such as creating gradations of color, for example.

In the early 17th century, the bourgeoisie of prosperous Edo (now Tokyo) began to seek entertainment in kabuki theaters and with the oirans and geishas of the yūkaku, harlot areas. The term ukiyo ("floating world") described the hedonistic lifestyle of the era.

Painted or printed, these works of visual art were popular among the bourgeois, who were wealthy enough to purchase them to decorate their homes. Success began as early as the 1670s, with Hishikawa Moronobu's monochrome paintings and prints depicting female beauty. Color printing emerged gradually - at first added meticulously by hand and only in special cases.

By the 1740s, artists such as Okumura Masanobu used multiple woodblocks carved in bas-relief to create colored areas. From 1760 on, the success of Suzuki Harunobu's nishiki-e brocade prints led to the production in high color refinement becoming standard, with each item being designed from the use of ten or more blocks.

The height of the period, in quantity and quality, was marked by pieces depicting beauty and theater, created by masters such as Torii Kiyonaga, Kitagawa Utamaro, and Tōshūsai Sharaku at the end of the 18th century.

This apex was followed in the following century by masters of landscapes, led by Hokusai, whose Great Wave of Kanagawa is not only the masterpiece of the genre but also one of the most popular and acclaimed pieces of Japanese art; and by the serene creator of atmospheric environments Hiroshige, known for "Fifty-Three Seasons of Tōkaidō."

With the death of these masters and the technological and social modernization of the Meiji restoration of 1868, the production of ukiyo-e declined.

The genre was a core element in shaping the Western perception of art from Japan at the end of the 19th century, especially from the landscapes of Hokusai and Hiroshige.

In the 1870s, Japaneseism became a prominent trend and was a major influence on the early Impressionists, such as Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, and Claude Monet, as well as on the Post-Impressionists, such as van Gogh, and Art Nouveau artists, among them Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The 20th century saw a renaissance of Japanese woodcut, with the shin-hanga strand growing in interest in the West with its traditional scenes from Japanese culture combined with Western references and the sōsaku-hanga movement preaching production individualism as a unique creative path for the expression of the self.

The legacy cultures of ukiyo-e, since the late twentieth century, continue in such an individualistic vein and have also been conceived from techniques imported from the Western world, such as screen printing, etching, and mezzo-dyeing.

Ukiyo-e History


Japanese art, since the Heian period (794 - 1185), followed two main paths: the nativist yamato-e tradition, with Japanese themes and best known for the works of the Tosa school, and the Chinese-inspired tradition called kara-e, especially the sumi-ê strand of Sesshū Tōyō and his disciples. The Kanō school of painting incorporated features of both traditions.

Since ancient times, Japanese art-making found maintainers, or patrons, among aristocracy, military governments, and religious authorities. Until the 16th century, the proletariat was not the subject of painting, and even when it was included, the works remained luxury items made for samurai or individuals of the wealthy merchant class.

Later, such pieces of art began to emerge from and for ordinary townspeople, with monochrome paintings depicting beautiful women, theater sets, and urban meretricious zones. The manual nature of making such shikomi-e - a term identifying this primitive practice - limited the scale of production, a problem that was soon overcome with the emergence of genres aimed at mass production in woodcut.

Uma tela pintada, de seis painéis, retratando uma espécie de parque no qual visitantes desfrutam a paisagem.

During the Sengoku period (1467 - 1603) and its notorious civil war era, a bourgeois class with strong political power developed. The machishū (町衆), as they were known, had an alliance with the court, control over local communities, and influence over art through patronage. This condition and its consequences stimulated the revival of Japanese classical art in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 - 1616), upon unifying the country and being appointed Shōgun, gaining great power at the national level, consolidated his rule in the village of Edo, now Tokyo, and required the daimyo (大名 feudal lord) to gather there with their retinues in alternate years.

The demands of the growing capital attracted many workers from other parts of the country, so that men became about seventy percent of the inhabitants. The village grew during the Edo period (1603 - 1867) from a population of 1,800 people to over a million in the 19th century.

The centralized shogunate ended machishū power and divided Japanese society into four social classes, with the current samurai class at the top and the merchant class at the bottom. Although deprived of political influence, the latter benefited most from the rapid economic expansion that occurred in the Edo period.

With the beneficial financial condition of the class, many of its members became in the habit of seeking leisure in the meretricious areas, particularly the so-called Yoshiwara (吉原 ), and to collect art canvases to decorate their homes, a practice that in earlier times was not compatible with their financial potential.

The experience with prostitution was therefore open to those with sufficient health, class, and education.

Woodcut in Japan, dating back to the "Hyakumantō Darani" in 770 CE, was, until the 17th century, reserved only for Buddhist images and seals. The complexity of the Japanese writing system, which required some 100,000 pieces in letterpress printing mechanisms, meant that woodcut techniques came to be considered more efficient for reproduction.

In the Saga domain, calligrapher Honami Kōetsu and publisher Suminokura Soan combined printed text and images in works of literature, an adaptation of "Ise monogatari" (1608) being among their major productions.

During the Kan'ei era (1624 - 1643), illustrated books of folk tales called tanrokubon (丹緑本 orange-and-green books), were the first mass-produced publications in which woodcut, or woodcut, printing was used. 

The variation of imagery and themes constructed through this technique began to grow, most notably the creation of visual pieces for tales about hedonistic urban life in the capital, present in books written in kana known as kanazōshi (仮名草子).

The reconstruction of Edo that followed after the great Meireiki fire in 1657 occasioned a major modernization in the city, and the publication of printed illustrated books flourished in the rapidly urbanizing environment.

The term ukiyo (浮世 floating world) is homophone to an ancient Buddhist term, ukiyo (憂き世 this world of sorrow and grief), which characterized the ephemeral condition of all things and the cycle of earthly life.

The later nomenclature was sometimes associated with meanings such as "erotic" or "elegant," among others, and later came to be related to the hedonistic spirit of that time for the lower classes, celebrated in the precursor novel Ukiyo Monogatari (浮世物語 Tales of the Floating World) (c. 1661) by Asai Ryōi. In its preface, it is written:

" To live only the present moment, to give oneself entirely to the contemplation of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossom and the maple leaf.... Singing songs, drinking sake, having fun, not being overwhelmed by poverty and not letting it show on your face, but floating like a gourd in the river current: this is what we call Ukiyo."

Emergence (late 17th-early 18th century)


Early artists in the genre emerged from strands of Japanese painting. Seventeenth-century yamato-e works developed a style of contoured forms that allowed paints to be dripped onto wet surfaces and spread across their boundaries. This contouring practice was dominant in the development of ukiyo-e.

Around 1661, kakemono-e pieces known as kanbun bijin (寛文美人 portraits of Kanbun beauties?) gained popularity. The paintings of the Kanbun era (1661 - 1673), much of it done by anonymous artists, marked the beginning of the genre's history as an independent artistic school.

The works of Iwasa Matabei (1578 - 1650) had a great affinity with ukiyo-e painting, although scholars differ on whether or not his work belongs to the genre. Claims that he was its founder are especially popular among the Japanese research community. 

At times, Matabei has been credited as the supposed author of the "Biombo of Hikone," a screen painting believed to be the earliest ukiyo-e work still extant. The canvas possesses refined Kanō style and depicts everyday life of the time, out of line with the thematic characteristics that are the subject matter of the pictorial schools.

In response to the growing demand for genre works, Hishikawa Moronobu (1618 - 1694) produced the first woodcuts of the genre. By 1672, Moronobu's success was such that he began to sign his work, creating the first book of genre illustrations with a known author.

He was a prolific illustrator, working with a wide variety of styles and developing an influential way of portraying female beauty. Most importantly, he created single-sheet illustrations, which could have meaning as single pieces or as part of series.

Hishikawa's school thus attracted a large number of followers and even imitators, such as Sugimura Jihei, and marked the beginning of the popularization of the new art form.

Torii Kiyonobu I and Kaigetsudō Ando became prominent inheritors of Moronobu's style after the death of their "master," although neither had been a member of the Hishikawa school.

Both, in their creations, discarded background details in favor of a focus on the human figure-most commonly, kabuki actors in the yakusha-e of Kiyonobu and the Torii school that followed him, as well as courtesans in the bijin-ga of Ando and his Kaigetsudō school.

Ando and his followers produced stereotypical images of women whose design and posture were designed with mass production in mind, and his popularity of these works created a demand for more paintings that eventually spread to other artists and schools.

The Kaigetsudō school and its characteristic "Kaigetsudō beauty" ended after Ando discontinued his activities and went into exile around 1714.

Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671 - 1750) a native of Kyoto, created exquisite paintings of courtesans. Considered a master of erotic portraiture, he was the subject of a government ban in 1722, although he is believed to have continued his artistic work under different names.

Sukenobu spent most of his career in Edo, and his influence was considerable on both Kantō and Kansai. Miyagawa Chōshun's (1683 - 1752) paintings depicted everyday life of the early 18th century in delicate colors. Chōshun, however, did not create prints.

The Miyagawa school, founded by him at the beginning of the same century, specialized in romantic subjects in a style more refined in strokes and colors compared to the Kaigetsudō school. Chōshun allowed greater freedom of expression to the members, a group that later came to include Katsushika Hokusa.

Color Etchings (mid-18th century)

Even in early monochrome prints and books, color was added by hand in special cases. The demand for colored works in the early 18th century was supplied by tan-e (丹 tan), a type of pigment made from lead tetroxide mixed with sulfur and saltpeter. Canvases were usually painted in shades of orange and, less commonly, green and yellow. 

Works of the type were followed in the 1720s by the fashion for the pinkish dye beni-e (紅 beni), produced from safflower petals, and later by the fashion for the lacquer-like paint urushi-e (漆絵 urushi).

In 1744, the first successful period of color engraving took place, with the predominant use of beni-e and vegetable green. The works of this wave, engraved by means of multiple woodblocks, one for each shade, were known as benizuri-e (紅刷絵 benizuri).

The artist Okumura Masanobu (1686 - 1764) played a major role during the period of rapid technical development in printmaking between the late 17th and mid-18th century. In 1707, he set up a store where he combined elements of the major artistic schools of the time to a wide variety of styles, although he did not belong to any of them.

Among the innovations of his romantic and lyrical visual creations were the introduction of perspective, which gave voice to a specialized branch of perspective within ukiyo-e, called uki-e; in the 1740s, the long, slender hashira-e prints; and the combination of graphic arts and literature in haikus of his own making.

Ukiyo-e art reached its peak of success at the end of the 17th century, with the advent of engravings in a rich quantity and variety of color, an advance developed when Edo returned to prosperity with monetary reforms after a long period of depression.

These popular multicolored pieces came to be called nishiki-e (錦絵 brocaded image), and their name was derived from the resemblance their showy colors had to imported Chinese brocades, known in Japan as shokkō nishiki. The first prints of this variant were intended for calendars (絵暦 'e-goyomi'), developed in multiple blocks, with high-quality paper and strong, opaque inks.

These productions had the number of the days of each month arranged in the middle of their design and were distributed at the beginning of the year as personalized "happy new year" gifts, bearing the name of the sponsor instead of the artist's signature.

The carving blocks for these works were later reused for commercial production, where the sponsor's name was removed and that of the artist responsible put in its place.

The delicate and romantic prints of Hozumi Harunobu (1725 - 1770) were among the first to enjoy expressive and complex designs in color, produced with more than a dozen separate blocks to handle different chromatic hues and halftones.

His sober and graceful canvases invoked the classicism of waka poetry and yamato-e painting. Harunobu's prolificity was dominant in the ukiyo-e art scene of his time. The success of his colorful nishiki-e from 1765 onward led to a declining demand for limited palette works such as benizuri-e and urushi-e.

A trend against the idealism of Harunobu's works and the Torii school developed after the artist's death in 1770. Katsukawa Shunshō (1726 - 1793) and his school began to create portraits of kabuki actors with a greater fidelity to the physical characteristics of the models compared to what was hitherto produced.

Koryūsai (1735 - c. 1790) and Kitao Shigemasa (1739 - 1820), prominent portraitists of women, brought a new focus to the genre, moving it away from the influence of Harunobu's idealism, toward urban fashion and bringing royal courtesans and geishas into the thematic center. 

Koryūsai was perhaps the most active ukiyo-e artist of the 17th century, producing greater numbers of paintings and series of prints than any other of past generations. The Kitao school that Shigemasa founded was one of the dominant branch of schools in the last decades of the 18th century.

In the 1770s, Utagawa Toyoharu produced a large number of uki-e prints[52] that demonstrated mastery of Western perspective techniques. Toyoharu's works helped make landscapes a common subject for ukiyo-e, since prior to this they served only as backgrounds for human portraits. 

In the 19th century, Western techniques of perspective were completely absorbed into the artistic culture of the Japanese and came to be employed in the refined landscapes of artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige, the latter while a member of the Utagawa school, founded by Toyoharu.

This school became one of the most influential of the time and produced work in a much wider variety of styles and modes than any other.

Ukiyo-e works with refined use of color



Ukiyo-e Peak (late 18th century)


While Japanese society saw economically difficult times in the late 18th century,the same era witnessed the genre's peak in quantity and quality of work, particularly during the Kansei era (1789 - 1791).

The ukiyo-e of the Kansei reform period brought a focus on beauty and harmony, a focus that eventually collapsed in the following century as the reforms ended and political tensions rose, culminating in the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

In the 1780s, Torii Kiyonaga (1752 - 1815), of the Torii school, depicted traditional ukiyo-e subjects, such as female beauties and urban scenes, produced on wide sheets of paper, always as horizontal diptychs or triptychs.

His works distanced themselves from Harunobu's poetic landscapes, opting instead for realistic portraits of idealized female forms, dressed according to the prevailing fashion, posing in scenic locations.[60] He also produced portraits of kabuki actors in the realistic style, as well as musicians and choirs.

A law went into effect in 1790 requiring prints to go through an appraisal process before they could be sold. Censorship grew strict in the following decades, and violators received severe punishment. In 1801, a group of offenders from the Utagawa school, including Utagawa Toyokuni, had their work suppressed.

Kitagawa Utamaro was arrested in 1804 for creating prints of 16th century political and military leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Utamaro (c. 1753 - 1806) achieved great renown in the 1790s with his bijin ōkubi-e ("portraits of beautiful women with large heads"), focusing on the heads and upper torso of the figures, a style already employed in portraits of kabuki actors.

Utamaro experimented with strokes, colors, and techniques to create innovations in physical features, expressions, and subject backgrounds from a wide variety of influences. Utamaro's individualized beauties possessed sharp contrast to the stereotypical images that were hitherto customary.

By the end of the decade, especially after the death of his patron, Tsutaya Jūzaburō, in 1797, Utamaro's prodigious productivity declined in quality[66] and so continued until his death in 1806.

Appearing suddenly in 1794 and disappearing as suddenly as ten months later, the prints of the enigmatic Tōshūsai Sharaku are among the best known of ukiyo-e. Sharaku produced remarkable portraits of kabuki actors, introducing a great level of realism into works of the genre, emphasizing in his production the differences between the actor and the character portrayed.

The expressive, contorted faces he created contrasted sharply with the serene, mask-like faces that were more commonly produced by great artists such as Harunobu or Utamaro.

Published by Tsutaya, Sharaku's work met resistance and in 1795 his delivery ceased as mysteriously as it appeared, his real identity to this day being unknown.[69] Utagawa Toyokuni (1769 - 1825) produced kabuki portraits in a more accessible style and was better received by the Edo community, emphasizing dramatic postures and avoiding Sharaku's realism.

A consistent high level of quality marked the genre in the late 18th century, but the works of the masters of this time were overshadowed by the legacy of Utamaro and Sharaku.

One of Kiyonaga's followers, Chōbunsai Eishi (1756 - 1829), abandoned his position as private painter to Shogun Tokugawa Ieharu to produce ukiyo art. He brought a refined sense in his portraits of slender and graceful courtesans, and left as a legacy remarkable students. With a fine stroke, Eishōsai Chōki (fl. 1786 - 1808) portrayed delicate female figures. As the Edo period headed toward its end, the Utagawa school came to dominate ukiyo-e production.

Edo was the primary center of production during the course of this period. The Kamigata region (上方), which today constitutes Kyoto and Osaka, was another major creative center. In contrast to the wide thematic range of the Edo plays, those of Kamigata tended to depict only kabuki figures.

The regional style was little distinct from that of Edo until the late 18th century, in part because of the constant transition of artists between the two areas of the country. The colors adopted were usually lighter and with thicker pigments. In the 19th century, many of these productions came to be designed by kabuki fans and amateurs.

Ukiyo-e Late flowering: nature and landscapes (19th century)

Ukiyo-e Ukiyo-e

With the Tenpō reforms of 1841-43, luxury outdoor display became suppressed, including the performance art of courtesans and actors. As a result, many artists in the genre began to depict travel scenes and images of nature in their creations, especially birds and flora.Landscapes had lost representation in art since Moronobu, although they were an important creative element in the works of Kiyonaga and Shuncho.

Only at the end of the Edo period did works with this theme begin to constitute an independent strand, especially through the work of Hokusai and Hiroshige, who eventually mastered the use of perspective in ukiyo-e, although the strand had not recorded much historical past of exploration of this aspect before the masters of the late era.

The main characteristic of Japanese landscape art (名所絵 'meisho-e') was that it differed from the Western tradition in that it relied more on imagination, composition and atmosphere and less on observation of nature.

The self-proclaimed "mad painter" Hokusai (1760 - 1849) enjoyed a long and varied career. His work is marked by a lack of the sentimentality usually common to ukiyo-e and a focus on Western-influenced formalism.

His accomplishments include illustrations for literary works by Takizawa Bakin, series of sketchbooks - the most famous of which is called Hokusai Manga (北斎漫画 sketches of Hokusai ) - and his popularization of landscape as a strand, especially with the "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji" series, which includes his best-known work, The Great Wave of Kanagawa, which is also one of the most famous pieces of Japanese art of all time. 

In contrast to the work of the old masters, Hokusai's colors were bold, flat, and abstract, and his themes had no relation to the meretricious areas, but dialogued with ordinary life and the working-class environment.

Established masters such as Keisai Eisen, Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Utagawa Kunisada also followed in Hokusai's footsteps towards landscapes in the 1830s, producing works of bold composition and striking effects.

Although they did not gain the same attention and prestige as their better-known predecessors, there were some masters in the Utagawa school in the period of decline. The prolific Kunisada (1786 - 1865) had some rivals in the tradition of portrait design of courtesans and actors.

Eisen (1790 - 1848), one of them, was also adept at portraiture of landscapes. The perhaps last significant member of this era, Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861), went through a variety of styles and subject matter as much as Hokusai did in his career.

His historical scenes of warriors in violent combat gained popularity,[88] especially his hero series of "Suikoden" (1827 - 30) and "Chūshingura" (1847). He also acted out depicting nature and satirical scenes - the latter a rarely explored area within the dictatorial setting of the Edo era - on subjects he dared to confront, given the signs of the weakening shogunate at the time.

Hiroshige (1797 - 1858) was considered Hokusai's greatest rival, thanks to his artistic scope and influence. He specialized in images of birds and flowers and serene landscapes, and was best known for his travel series, such as "The Fifty-Three Seasons of Tōkaidō."

His work was more realistic, subtly colored, and more atmospheric than Hokusai's. Nature and the seasons were key elements, and mist, rain, snow, and moonlight played an important role in his compositions. Hiroshige's followers, including his adopted son Hiroshige II and son-in-law Hiroshige III, carried on the stylistic tradition of their master in the Meiji era.

Ukiyo-e Decline (late 19th century)


After the deaths of Hokusai and Hiroshige and the Meiji restoration of 1868, the genre suffered a sharp decline in both quantity and quality. With the rapid westernization that took place in the Meiji era, woodcut was transformed into a service to journalism, and began to compete with photography.

Practitioners of "pure" ukiyo-e became increasingly rare, and popular taste shied away from the art genre, which became the remnant heritage of an obsolete era. Artists continued to produce notable works occasionally, but by the 1890s, the tradition was showing signs of fading.

In the second half of the 19th century, synthetic pigments imported from Germany began to replace traditional, organic ones. Many prints of this era made extensive use of bright red and were therefore known as aka-e (赤絵 red images).

Artists such as Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) led the trend in the 1860s of depicting macabre scenes depicting murders and ghosts, monsters and supernatural creatures (妖怪 'yōkai'), as well as legendary Japanese and Chinese heroes. His work One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885-92) depicts a variety of fantastic (Kaidan) and mundane subjects with moon-related motifs.

Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847 - 1915) became known for his works documenting the rapid modernization of Tokyo, such as artistic records of railroad construction, and for his depictions of the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War.

One of the first painters of the Kanō school in the 1870s, Toyohara Chikanobu (1838 - 1912), migrated to printmaking, depicting mainly the Imperial House of Japan and Western-influenced scenes in Japanese life of the Meiji period.

Ukiyo-e Introduction in the West

Foto em preto e branco de uma construção em tradicional estilo japonês.

With the exception of Dutch merchants who had been doing business with Japan since the Edo era, Westerners paid little attention to Japanese art until the mid-nineteenth century. Even when interest arose, they distinguished it little from the rest of Eastern production.

Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg devoted a year's work to the Dutch trade mission at Dejima, near Nagasaki, and was one of the first Westerners to collect Japanese graphic works. After the start of ukiyo-e exports, which slowly began to grow still in the early 19th century, the collection of the merchant dealer Isaac Titsingh began to attract attention from art connoisseurs in Paris.

The presence of US commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry in Edo in 1853 led to the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854, which made Japan a country open to the rest of the world after more than two centuries of isolation. Works of the genre were among the items the commodore took to the United States.

Such pieces began to appear in Paris around the 1830s, and by the 1850s had become numerous. The reception of this art-making in Europe was mixed, and even when acclaimed, ukiyo-e was generally seen as inferior to Western art of the time, which sought to emphasize the mastery of naturalistic perspective and anatomy. 

At the 1867 Universal Exposition in Paris, however, Japanese artistic production began to arouse curiosity and to be seen as an elegant trend, gaining prominence in France and England in the 1870s and 1880s. Works by Hokusai and Hiroshige played an important role in developing the Western view of the art of Japan.

At the time of its introduction into Western culture, woodcut was the most common mass medium in its original country, and it was already the general opinion of the Japanese population that the technique would not last that long.

Among the first European promoters and scholars of ukiyo-e and Japanese art was the writer Edmond de Goncourt. The art critic Philippe Burty was responsible for coining the term "Japanism" in 1872. 

At the time, stores for original and derivative items of this art began to appear, as well as magazines in English, German and French devoted to it and exhibitions such as the 1890 one at the École des Beaux-Arts, enjoyed by artists such as Mary Cassatt.

The American Ernest Fenollosa was one of the first Western devotees of the culture of Japan, and did much to promote Japanese art, especially the works of Hokusai, which were nuclear in his inaugural exhibition as curator of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In Tokyo in 1898, too, Fenollosa was responsible for curating the first exhibition of ukiyo-e in his home country.

By the end of the 19th century, the popularity of the genre in the Western world propelled prices beyond the reach of many collectors, among them the artist Edgar Degas, who used to exchange his own paintings for prints of Japanese art.

Tadamasa Hayashi was a prominent art dealer in Paris, and his Tokyo office was responsible for the evaluation and exportation of large quantities of prints to the West, and for this he was accused by Japanese critics of harvesting an intangible treasure of the country.

This disposal of pieces took place against a background of constant immersion of Japanese artists in the classical techniques and methods of Western painting.

The domestic production, especially of prints, had a major influence on Western art at the time of the early Impressionists. Early painter-collectors, too, incorporated Japanese themes and compositional techniques into their work around the 1860s:

the patterned carpets and wallpapers in the work of Édouard Manet were inspired by the kimonos of ukiyo-e, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler focused his attention on ephemeral elements of nature as he did in the landscape works of the genre. 

Van Gogh was an avid collector and painted oil copies of prints by Hiroshige and Eisen. Degas and Cassatt depicted fleeting everyday life under the strong influence of Japanese perspective and composition. The flat perspective and unmodulated colors of the genre were of particular influence to graphic designers and poster creators.

Toulouse-Lautrec's lithographs evidenced his interest not only in the coloration and contoured forms of ukiyo-e, but also in the themes of performers and courtesans. He signed many of his works with his initials inside a circle, imitating the stamps of Japanese printed matter. 

Other artists of the period who absorbed influence from Japanese production were Monet, Lafarge, Gauguin, and members of the Les Nabis group such as Bonnard and Vuillard. Classical composer Claude Debussy sought inspiration in works by Hokusai and Horoshige, most notably in La mer, 1905.

Imagist poets such as Amy Lowell also sought ideas in prints of the genre. Lowell also published a book of poetry called "Pictures of the Floating World" in 1919, with an oriental theme and style.

Ukiyo-e  Ukiyo-e

Ukiyo-e Derived traditions (20th century)


"Travel sketch" as a genre of printmaking began to become popular around 1905, with the Meiji government at the time encouraging national tourism among its citizens.

In 1915, publications editor Shōzaburō Watanabe introduced the term shin-hanga (新版画 new prints) to describe a branch of production he worked with that was characterized by the use of traditional Japanese themes aimed at international and domestic high-class audiences.

Important artists who adhered to the strand included Goyō Hashiguchi, called the "Utamaro of the Taishō period" as a result of his manner of portraying women; Shinsui Itō, who brought more modern sensibility to depictions of the female figure; and Hasui Kawase, who produced pieces on landscapes characteristic of modernization.

Watanabe also published works by foreign artists, special for their peculiar way of mixing Japanese and Indian influences, the most notable name of which was that of the British Charles W. Bartlett (1860 - 1940) around 1916. Other publishers followed Watanabe's successful model, and many shin-hanga artists, such as Goyō and Hiroshi Yoshida, founded their own studios to disseminate their work.

Also in the early 20th century, devotees of the sōsaku-hanga (創作版画 creative printmaking) movement took power over all aspects of printmaking - drawing, carving, and printing.

Kanae Yamamoto (1882 - 1946), then a student at Tokyo University of the Arts, is credited as the originator of this strand. In 1904, he produced the play Fisherman using woodcut, a technique then already considered by the Japanese art scene as obsolete and stigmatized for its association with mass production.

The sōsaku-hanga was marked by the favoring of artistic individuality and did not establish dominance of themes or styles. Such works ranged from complete abstraction, such as those by Kōshirō Onchi (1891 - 1955), to traditional figurative depictions of typical Japanese scenes and settings, such as those by Un'ichi Hiratsuka (1895 - 1997).

These artists produced pieces not because they yearned to reach a large appreciative audience, but for pure creative ends, not restricting their work to the traditional mediums of ukiyo-e.

Late 20th and early 21st century pieces evolved from the approaches of the earlier movements of the period, especially from sōsaku-hanga's emphasis on the expression of individuality.

Silkscreen, etching, mezzo-dye, mixed technique, and others comprise some of the Western artistic methods that are blended with traditional Eastern woodcut in many of the contemporary works of ukiyo-e adherents.

Ukiyo-e Style


Many of the first names in the genre applied sophisticated knowledge and training in the compositional principles of classical Chinese painting to their work, but gradually abandoned the influence of the other country and developed a native visual language.

Those devoted to early ukiyo-e have been called forerunners in the sense that they were responsible for devising a new mode of printing from the adaptation of centuries-old artistic techniques, although their output is by no means regarded as primitive. Many painters and printmakers in the genre received training from teachers at Kanō and other traditional art schools.

An essential characteristic of most ukiyo-e works is the well-defined, thick stroke. In the earliest prints of the genre, monochrome and the stroke as a unique printed element were prominent. Even with the advent of color creation, the characteristic design continued to dominate.

The composition was notable for its arrangement in flat spaces. Figures in these compositions were typically arranged without any illusion of depth. Attention was paid mostly to the aspects of lines, shapes, and patterns in the clothing of the figures portrayed.

Such compositions were often asymmetrical and perspective commonly conceived from unusual angles. To give a spontaneous air, elements of the depictions were usually cut out. In the color pieces, the outlines of most color areas were firmly and sharply delineated.

The aesthetics employed in these parts contrasted with the modulated colors customary in Western production and with other prominent artistic traditions of Japan sponsored by the wealthy classes, such as the monochromatic sumi-ê painting of Zen Buddhism or the tonal colorizations peculiar to the Kanō school.

The abuse of color, ostentation, complex patterns, concern with the representation of fashion and its transformations over time, and the tense and dynamic human figure poses, core attributes of the genre, were in extreme contrast to many of the then-dominant concepts of Japanese aesthetics.

Prominent among these were wabi-sabi, which favored simplicity and imperfection, and the shibui values of subtlety, humility, and restraint. It is believed that ukiyo-e presented less opposition to aesthetic concepts such as Iki, with its racy, urban style.

Ukiyo-e presents an unusual approach to graphic perspective, in a way that may seem underdeveloped compared to European painting of the same period. The Western style of geometric perspective was practiced in Japan, especially by Akita ranga painters of the 1770s, as were the Chinese methods of creating a sense of depth through the use of homogeneity in parallel lines.

These techniques often appeared combined in the same work, with the Western style in the background and the more expressive Chinese in the foreground. They were probably first learned through Western-style Chinese painting, rather than through Western painting itself.

Long after becoming familiar with these methods, artists continued to harmonize them with other more traditional methods according to their compositional and expressive needs. Other ways used to indicate depth included the Chinese tripartite method used in Buddhist works, in which the larger figures were arranged in front, the smaller ones in middle layers, and the even smaller ones in the background.

Such a practice can be seen in Hokusai's The Great Wave of Kanagawa, where a large boat is in the foreground, a smaller one behind, and a miniaturized Mount Fuji in the background.

There was a tendency, from the earliest ukiyo-e works, for depictions of human beauty in poses that art historian Midori Wakakura calls jatai shisei (蛇体姿勢 'serpentine posture'), which are characterized by the drawing of bodies in unnatural twists.

Another historian, Motoaki Kōno, believes that this trend has roots in buyō dance. Haruo Suwa, on the other hand, reports that such poses are the result of artistic license taken by painters and printmakers. This aspect is noticeable even in works conceived from the use of realistic perspective techniques.

Ukiyo-e Themes and genres


Among the typical themes of ukiyo-e, female beauty (bijin-ga), kabuki actors (yakusha-e), and landscapes stood out. The women portrayed in this type of work were most often courtesans and geishas at leisure, a representative form that promoted entertainment in meretricious areas.

The level of detail by which the artists designed the dress and hairstyles became one of the most reliable elements of study for estimating dates and analyzing production according to historical periods.

Another point studied, though to a lesser extent, is the accuracy of the depiction of physical characteristics, which followed the pictorial fashions of each era - the stereotypical faces and tall, slender bodies in one time period, short ones in another, for example.

Celebrity portraits were in great demand, particularly those of kabuki and sumo, the two most popular forms of entertainment of the era. Although the strand of landscape works made it popular in the Western world, it flourished relatively late in the history of the genre.

Works in the genre also developed from illustration in books. Many of Moronobu's early pieces, for example, were originally part of publications for which he was an illustrator. E-hon drawing books were popular[158] and became important channels for ukiyo-e artists.

Hokusai produced, in three volumes, "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" and, in fifteen, "Hokusai Manga," the latter a compendium of over four hundred sketches in a wide variety of realistic and fantastic subjects.

Traditional Japanese religions did not consider sex or pornography a moral corruption in the Judeo-Christian perspective, and until the Meiji era moral change that led to its suppression, shunga-e, with its erotic themes, was a staple.

Although the Tokugawa regime subjected the country to strict censorship laws, pornography was not considered a major offense and was generally approved by the regulatory mechanisms. Many of these works featured a high level of drawing quality, as well as frequent humor, in explicit depictions of sex scenes, voyeurism, and large anatomy.

Portraits of courtesans, on the other hand, were strongly linked to the spirit of meretricious entertainment. It is generally agreed that virtually every ukiyo-e master produced shunga-e at some point in his career.

There is little record of the social acceptance of the shunga, although historian Timon Screech posits that there were almost certainly concerns in this regard, and that this level of acceptance was overestimated by Western collectors.

Natural scenes played an important role in Asian art over the centuries. Many skilled artists studied in detail the correct forms of representation and the anatomy of plants and animals, while human anatomy remained more fanciful until modern times.

Pieces of ukiyo-e that depict nature are called kachō-e (花鳥画 flower-and-bird portraits), although the strand was thematically open to more than flowers and birds, and such elements did not necessarily appear together. The precise and detailed works of the type done by Hokusai are credited as establishing kachō-e as a strand.

The Tenpō reforms of the 1840s curbed depictions of actors and courtesans. At the time, landscapes and kachō-e aside, artists began working with historical settings and events as their subject matter, involving, for example, ancient warriors from legends, literature, and religion.

The 11th century "Genji Monogatari" and the 13th century "Heike Monogatari" were recurring sources of inspiration throughout the history of Japanese art and ukiyo-e.Famous knights and swordsmen such as Miyamoto Musashi (1584 - 1645) also served as subject matter, as did depictions of monsters, figures, phenomena, and heroes from Japanese and Chinese mythologies.

From the 17th to the 19th century, Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world. Trade, especially with Holland and China, was restricted to Dejima Island near Nagasaki, where works were sold to foreign tourists in a variant known as nagasaki-e.In the mid-19th century, Yokohama was home to the main foreign settlement after 1859, from which Western knowledge proliferated throughout Japan.

Especially from 1858 to 1862, works named yokohama-e documented, in varying degrees of realism and fantasy, the growing community of inhabitants from other countries, with whom the Japanese developed strong contact. Triptychs taking as their subject Western peoples and their technology were particularly popular.

Among the prints for special occasions were those of the surimono strand, made in limited edition for appreciative experts, and those of uchiwa-e, printed on fans.

Ukiyo-e Production


Pintura de ondas estilizadas Ukiyo-e

Artists of the genre customarily engaged in both painting and printmaking, although some specialized in one or the other. In contrast to earlier artistic traditions, ukiyo-e painters favored brightness and sharpness of color, and often outlined outlines with stick ink, which provided an appearance similar to that of the stroke of etchings.

Without suffering from the limitations of woodcut, painters enjoyed the greater available variety of techniques, pigments, and surfaces. The pigments used were generally composed from mineral or organic substances, such as safflower, lead, and cinnabar, for example, and later synthetic western dyes, such as Paris green or Prussian blue.

Different types of parchment, such as kakemono or makimono, in addition to byōbu, were among the most common working surfaces.

Ukiyo-e Engraving

Bloco talhado para impressão.

The ukiyo-e prints were the work of teams of craftsmen in workshops. It was rare that the artist in charge carved the wooden blocks himself. 

The activity was divided into four groups of professionals: the publisher, who licensed, promoted, and distributed the pieces; the artists, who provided the design; the carvers, who prepared the blocks for printing; and the printers, who transferred the engraved designs to paper. As a rule, only the names of the artist and the publisher received credit on the finished work.

Such pieces were printed on washi (和紙), a type of handmade paper, by hand, rather than by mechanical pressing, a method common in the West. The artist would provide an ink design on thin paper, which was glued to a cherry wood block and rubbed with oil until the top layers of the paper could be detached, leaving a translucent layer that the block cutter used as a guide.

He would cut and discard the non-black areas of the image, leaving the relief areas, painted, so that they could make the print. The original design was destroyed in the process.

The blocks were arranged face up, so that the printer could vary the pressure in pursuit of different effects, and to watch as the paper absorbed the water-based sumi dye, applied quickly horizontally. Among the most practiced printing tricks were applying relief to the image, fair by pressing an unpainted block against the paper, thus obtaining different textures, such as of clothing patterns or fishing nets.

Other effects included polishing by rubbing with agate to give colors an illuminated appearance; varnishing; mixing colors by repeated printing on the same material; cleaning with the use of metal or mica; and sprays applied to create a snowfall effect.

Printmaking was a commercial art form in which the publisher played an important role, as this was a task of high competition. More than a thousand publishers are known from the entire period. The number peaked at about 250 between the 1840s and 1850s alone, 200 of them in Edo.

This number slowly shrank after Japan's political opening, until about forty remained at the beginning of the 20th century. Such publishers held the rights to the blocks and copyright, and from the late 18th century this copyright became compulsory through the Jihon Toiya (地本問屋), the prevailing class representative association.

Works that went through several pressings were particularly profitable, so the publisher could reuse the blocks without additional payment to the artist or the butcher. Such blocks were also often exchanged or sold to other publishers or pawnshops. The professional also often acted as a reseller by trading colleagues' products in his stores.

In addition to the artist's stamp, publishers stamped their marks on the pieces, some in the form of a simple logo, others quite elaborate, also incorporating addresses and other information.


As a rule, printmakers went through apprenticeship processes before being given the right to produce their own pieces and sign them with their names. It was common for young craftsmen to partly or completely fund their woodcuts. As they built a career and gained fame, they would charge higher fees and publishers would cover the cost of the carving.

In pre-modern Japan, citizens could adopt various names throughout their lives, with, for example, name in childhood (yōmyō) differing from adult name (zokumyō). A stage name was composed of a surname (gasei) followed by a personal name (azana).

The gasei was often coming from the name of the school to which the artist belonged, such as Utagawa or Torii, for example, and the azana was usually created from a Chinese character of its master's stage name, exemplified by the fact that many students of Toyokuni (豊国) used "kuni" (国), among them Kunisada (国貞) and Kuniyoshi (国芳). 

Such fancy names and signatures were and often are confusing, as they changed throughout the painters' and printmakers' careers. Hokusai was an extreme case in this regard, having used more than a hundred nicknames during more than seven decades of his professional life.

Works of the printmaking trade were sold massively. By the mid-nineteenth century, the total circulation of such production could run into the thousands. They were promoted by traveling salesmen and merchants at affordable prices for prosperous citizens of the cities.

In some cases, such pieces served as advertisements for kimono models designed by designers involved with the production. Beginning in the second half of the 17th century, prints were often marketed as part of series, with each piece stamped with the name and number of its respective group.

This became a successful marketing technique, with collectors buying each new item in an effort to keep their series complete. In the 19th century, series such as Hiroshige's "The Fifty-Three Seasons of Tōkaidō" yielded dozens of component items.

Ukiyo-e Color Printing Production

Fotografia de um prato com uma porção de pó de cor azul.

Although color printing in Japan has origins dating back to the 1640s, early ukiyo-e works used only black ink. Color was often applied minutely by hand, using a primary red color in tan-e prints, or later safflower dye in beni-e pieces.

In e-hon books, the color mode began in the 1720s, and in single-sheet prints in the 1740s, with different blocks and prints for each color. Early shades were limited to pink and greenish, however, techniques expanded over the next two decades until more than five pigments could be used.

The mid-1760s brought the supercolorful nishiki-e prints, made from ten or more blocks. To keep the alignment of blocks for each color correct, overlapping color correlation marks, called kentō, were placed in the corner and adjacent side.

Professionals used natural dyes made from mineral and plant resources. Such pigmentations had translucent qualities that allowed colors to be blended from the red, blue, and yellow primaries.

In the 18th century, Prussian blue became quite popular, and was particularly common in the landscapes of Hokusai and Hiroshige, as was bokashi, whereby the painter produced gradations of color or the blending of them. More consistent and cheaper, synthetic aniline came from the West in 1864.

Its colors were stronger and brighter than traditional pigmentations, and the effects it produced could be more garish. The Meiji government promoted its use as part of its broad westernization policies.

Ukiyo-e Criticism and historiography

Period records of ukiyo-e artists are rare. The most important of these still extant is the "Ukiyo-e Ruikō" (浮世絵類考), a collection book of commentaries and biographies on painters and printmakers.

The first and no longer extant version was compiled around 1790 by Ōta Nanpo (大田南畝). Such a work was not printed during the Edo era, but circulated in hand-copied editions that were subject to numerous additions and alterations, so that over 120 variants of "Ukiyo-e Ruikō" are known.

Before World War II, the prevailing view stressed the centrality of study of prints over paintings, attributing the founding of ukiyo-e to Moronobu. After the war, the thinking shifted toward the importance of ukiyo-e painting, making direct connections to the yamato-e works of the 17th century.

Such a perspective saw Matabei as the originator of the genre, a thesis especially held in Japan, developing among native researchers and scholars from the 1930s onward, although the military government of the time suppressed it in order to emphasize the division between yamato-e scroll paintings associated with the court, and etchings, more characteristic of the merchant class, often seen as anti-authoritarian.

Uma fotografia de perfil em preto e branco de um homem barbado de meia idade virado para a esquerda.

The first critical studies on the history of ukiyo-e appeared in the Western world. Ernest Fenollosa was professor of philosophy at the then Imperial University of Tokyo (東京帝國大學 Tōkyō teikoku daigaku), now University of Tokyo, from 1878, as well as commissioner of Fine Arts for the Japanese Government from 1886.

His 1896 "Masters of Ukioye" was the first comprehensive study of the art form and formed the basis for most later research with a historical approach in terms of eras. Such a book described the trajectory of the genre in the early era of Matabei, the evolution that took place through the late 18th century in the golden years, the decline from the advent of Utamaro, and the brief revival with Hokusai and Hiroshige in the 1830s. 

Laurence Binyon, the then curator of oriental prints and drawings at the British Museum, wrote an account in "Painting in the Far East" of 1908 that was similar to Fenollosa's historiographical approach, but placed Utamaro and Sharaku among the masters.

Arthur Davison Ficke built, under the influence of Fenollosa's and Binyon's works, a more extensive study in the 1915 book "Chats on Japanese Prints.

"The 1954 "The Floating World" by James A. Michener followed the chronologies of the earlier research, although it presented classifications from periods and recognized the early artists not as primitives but as trained masters who emerged from the early painting traditions. 

For Michener and Richard Lane, ukiyo-e was initiated by Moronobu rather than Matabei. Lane's 1962 book "Masters of the Japanese Print" maintained the perspective of divisions into periods and firmly positioned the genre in the genealogy of Japanese art. This publication still recognized artists such as Yoshitoshi and Kiyochika as masters.

The 1964 book "Traditional Woodblock Prints of Japan" by Seiichirō Takahashi (高橋誠一郎) divided ukiyo-e artists into three periods: an early one, which included Harunobu, followed by the golden age of Kiyonaga, Utamaro, and Sharaku, and the endpoint with decline, which followed the declaration in the 1790s of censorship laws that dictated free and forbidden subject matter to approach in Japan.

This publication nevertheless acknowledges a greater number of masters in the late period than in the preceding periods, as well as characterizing ukiyo-e painting as a renewed form of yamato-e painting.

Tadashi Kobayshi (小林忠 ) later refined Takahashi's analysis, identifying the decline as coincident with the then shogunate's desperate attempts to maintain its power by instituting draconian laws until the country was bankrupted, culminating in the Meiji restoration in 1868.

Academic teaching about ukiyo-e tended to focus on cataloguing artists, in an approach that failed in terms of rigor and originality characteristic of scientific analysis of art in other fields. Such catalogs were numerous, but generally concentrated on specific groups of recognized masters and geniuses.

Little original research was added to the early and fundamental evaluations of the genre and its artists, especially regarding those of lesser renown.

Although the commercial nature of ukiyo-e prints has always been common knowledge, the evaluation of artists and their works were subject to the aesthetic preferences of specialists, and possible commercial success had little influence on this process.

The inclusion of historical standards in the canon of the genre has evolved rapidly since the beginning of the literature on it. Utamaro was particularly controversial, seen by Fenollosa and other specialists as a degenerate symbol of the decline of ukiyo-e, although he was widely accepted as one of the greatest masters since that time.

Some 19th century artists, however, including Yoshitoshi, were ignored or marginalized, attracting scholarly attention only towards the end of the 20th century. Research into the work of some such as Kunisada and Kuniyoshi has revived some of the esteem that such works enjoyed in their time. Some recent studies have examined the social conditions, among others, behind artistic production.

Novelist Jun'ichirō Tanizaki was critical of the superiority attitude of Westerners who claimed to possess superior aesthetics upon discovering ukiyo-e.

Tanizaki believed that this genre was merely the simplest form of Japanese art to understand from a Western perspective, that Japanese society of all classes appreciated it, although the Confucian morality of that time kept the population away from free discussion regarding this form of visual expression, and that moral values were violated by the discovery by Westerners.

Since the early 1900s, historians of manga - comics from Japan -developed theses connecting this form of expression to pre-twentieth-century national art. Particular emphasis was placed on Hokusai Manga as its precursor, although Hokusai's book was not narrative, nor was it the first to mention the term.

Trecho de quadrinho japonês em preto e branco

Ukiyo-e Collection and preservation

Gravura colorida ilustrando uma mulher japonesa agachada. A imagem combina duas reproduções da mesma peça. O lado direito está desbotado.

Dominant social groups strictly limited the space allowed for the construction of base-class properties, and the relatively small space of these houses was conducive to the use of ukiyo-e works, usually small in size, as decorative items.

Few records about the patronage of paintings of the genre have survived time. It is known, however, that such pieces were traded at high prices, much more expensive than prints. As such, it is believed that they were sold only to the wealthy, such as merchants or individuals of samurai classes.

Late-era prints are the ones that have survived in greatest numbers, as they were produced on a larger scale during the 19th century, with those from earlier eras, especially primitive ones, being rarer. The ukiyo-e was strongly associated with Edo culture, and visitors to the city often bought so-called azuma-e (東絵 'portraits of the capital of the east') as souvenirs.

Stores that sold such pieces usually specialized in popular items characteristic of Oriental culture, such as fans. The market for prints was highly diverse and had a heterogeneous audience, ranging from ordinary workers to the wealthy bourgeoisie.

Little concrete is known about these consumption habits. Detailed records from Edo about courtesans, actors, and sumo wrestlers are plentiful, but few are specific about the artistic genre. Determining what can be understood as the demographics of ukiyo-e consumption has required scholars to use indirect means of research.

Gauging prices is equally challenging for scholars, as records are also scarce and there was great variety in terms of production, quality, size, suppliers, demand, and changing methods, such as the introduction of the refined use of color in prints.

How expensive prices might be considered is also difficult to estimate as a result of social and economic conditions, which were in constant flux throughout the periods. In the 19th century, remaining records dealing with prints denoted that sales were generally between 16 and 100 mon for special editions.

Jun'ichi Ōkubo suggests that prices in the 20 and 30 mon range were probably more acceptable for ordinary prints.By way of comparison, a bowl of soba in the early 19th century was typically sold for 16 mon.

The dyes used in ukiyo-e prints are susceptible to fading when exposed to even low levels of light. This makes long term exhibitions in art galleries unfeasible. Paper in common use can deteriorate when it comes into contact with acidic materials, so boxes and folders for storage, for example, need to be pH neutral or alkaline.

Etchings need regular inspection for possible problems and stored at a relative humidity of 70% or less, so that fungal discolorations can be prevented.

Papers and pigments in ukiyo-e painting are sensitive to light and seasonal changes in humidity, and files need to be flexible, as sheets can shatter from such changes. In the Edo era, sheets were stacked on strong fiber papers and preserved rolled up in paulownia boxes, which in turn were placed inside another wooden box covered in lacquer.

In museums, exhibition planning needs to be limited in order to avoid deterioration from weathering and pollution. Improper rolling of pieces can also cause the creation of concavities in the paper, as well as creases in the act of rolling and unrolling. The ideal relative humidity for scrolls is 50% or 60%, and very dry levels result in embrittlement of the material.

Because they are mass productions, collecting the engravings is considerably different from performing the same activity with genre paintings. There is wide variation in terms of state of preservation, rarity, cost, and quality of remaining pieces.

Etchings may have stains, darkening, holes, tears or creases, and colors may be faded or have been retouched. In prints with multiple editions, the composition may also have been altered by woodcutters. When cropped after printing, such professionals may also perform edge trims.

The values of such pieces depend on a variety of factors, including the artist's reputation, physical condition, rarity, or belonging to original editions - even superior reprints cost less than first-print copies. As recently as 2009, the record price for an ukiyo-e print was €389,000, at auction for the portrait of kabuki actor Arashi Ryuzo, made by Sharaku in 1794.

The works were often subject to multiple editions, some with changes to the original woodblocks. Editions created from second carvings, however, circulated as commonly as pirated or counterfeit versions.

Takamizawa Enji (1870-1927), a producer of reissues of ukiyo-e, developed a carving method for printing refreshed colors on faded originals, in which he used tobacco ash to give the new colorations an aged look. Such recolored prints were still sold as originals.

Among the collectors of fraudulent pieces was the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who, leaving after visiting Japan, took some 1,500 pieces with him, many of which were sold before the truth about legitimacy was discovered.

Reference to ukiyo-e artists is made in the traditional Japanese style, with the surname preceding the personal name. Many of the most acclaimed, however, such as Utamaro and Hokusai, used only their first name.

Dealers usually refer to prints of the genre by the names of the standardized sizes, most commonly by aiban (34.5×22.5 cm or 13.6×8.9 in), chūban (22.5×19 cm or 8.9×7.5 in), and ōban (38×23 cm or 15.0×9.1 in), although the precise dimensions vary and the paper is trimmed after printing.

Fotografia de uma construção modernista.

Many of the largest high-quality collections of ukiyo-e are located outside Japan. Exemplars of the art entered the collection of the National Library of France in the first half of the 19th century. The British Museum began collecting ukiyo-e in 1860, and by the end of the 20th century owned over 70,000 items.

The largest, exceeding 100,000 pieces, resides at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston,and was started when Ernest Fenollosa donated his collection in 1912.  The first exhibition of prints of its kind in Japan was that presented by Kōjirō Matsukata in 1925, who accumulated his collection of pieces in Paris during World War I and then offered it to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

The largest archive in Japan consists of some 100 000 pieces and is part of the collection at the Japanese Museum of Ukiyo-e in Nagano.