Toshidama Gallery and Japanese Art: Stunning Ukiyo-e and Japanese Culture

| |

Toshidama Gallery and Japanese art: stunning ukiyo-e

By toshidama


Why? Why would these artists paint the same motif so many times over so many years? There is undoubtedly for both artists a spiritual dimension to their constant interest. For Hokusai who was a devout Buddhist, as for many Japanese, Fuji was symbolic of eternal life, a goddess having deposited the elixir of life on the peak. As the art historian Henry Smith puts it: “From an early time, Mt. Fuji was seen as the source of the secret of immortality, a tradition that was at the heart of Hokusai’s own obsession with the mountain.” So too for Cezanne, Mont St Victoire was a place of ancient Gods and of faith, particularly so towards the end of his life. The mountains drew both artists obsessively to turn over and over the same numinous image, to depict something which for whatever reason they found inspirational and  deeply, deeply moving.


The cherry blossom is quite explicitly referred to in the famous and near definition of the Floating World in the novel Ukiyo Monogatari by Asai Ryoi from 1661:

Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; … refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world…


Most people tend to think of Japan as being sealed from the rest of the world until Commander Perry’s famous gunboat diplomacy of 1854. This is true in the main but there are notable examples of Dutch fraternisation prior to the reforms that led to Japan’s sudden expansion in the late nineteen hundreds. Evidence of this is especially apparent in the work  of Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

It is known from contemporary accounts that Kuniyoshi owned a large collection of predominantly Dutch engravings, presumably acquired from traders and merchants. An anecdote from the 1894 book, Biographies of Floating World Artists of the Utagawa School recounts a friend visiting Kuniyoshi and during their conversation, reaching into a box to reveal several hundred Western images he had collected, including illustrated newspapers. The friend asked Kuniyoshi where he had obtained them but with no response.


The beautiful print illustrated above shows a woman, almost certainly a courtesan by her fashionable and expensive clothes, carrying an umbrella in one hand and a bound sheaf of papers in the other. The print is akakemono-e – a vertical oban diptych, two sheets mounted one on top of the other. The artist is the highly collectible Keisai Eisen and the print is from the early 1830’s. The mysterious sheaf of papers is a Gajo, a bound book of woodblock prints and it is these albums that we can thank for the fine state of preservation of so many works of ukiyo-e.


It’s very gratifying to see Japanese prints gaining recognition in the National press… twice in the same paper. Singled out for particular attention as ART BOOK OF THE YEAR is: Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous views of Edo by Melanie Trede and Lorenz Bichler, Taschen £27.99.

Well known English art critic Frank Whitford writes: “I simply love this book. It faithfully reproduces on a single page, at a size close to the originals, 119 woodblock prints that Hiroshige designed in the last two years of his life, redefining the landscape not only for Japanese art but for such Europeans as Whistler, Monet and Van Gogh, who copied or were inspired by them.”

Please visit for more articles and information.

Please visit -   On our site you will see a wonderful selection of Japanese woodblock prints for sale. Ukiyo-e (the Japanese name for woodblock prints of the 18th and 19thcenturies) are beautiful, collectible and a sound financial investment

Comments are closed