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Collected by Monet, collected and copied by Van Gogh , a huge influence on French Impressionism, Post Impressionism and Art Noveau, the importance of Japanese Wood-block Prints in the history of modern European Art and Design cannot be overstated.

Artists such as Matisse could not have existed without the influence of Ukiyo-e, Japanese wood-block prints laid the way for radical change in European graphic arts and time has not diminished there beauty, power or importance.

Wood-block printing flourished in Japan from the 17th. century to the 19th. century. In an attempt to translate brush drawings in the Chinese style onto printed matter, 17th century Artists and Artisans created a new artform peculiar to Japan.

Ukiyo is the Floating World, the term ukiyo-e is understood as 'images of the floating world'. The Floating World was a world of pleasure and freedom from the cares of the world, a world of courtesans , tea houses and theatre.

Kabuki Theatre was very popular and like today the audience had an insatiable desire for images of their actor heros, Artists such as Kunisada specialised in images of Kabuki actors and produced striking examples as did his pupil Kunichika.Other artists such as Kuniyoshi and his pupil Yoshitoshi famously used the history of ancient Japan and its heros as subject matter for their stunning prints.

The making of a traditional ukiyo-e wood-block print was a collaboration of three disciplines, the designer, the wood-block cutter and the printer. Credit for the completed print generally goes to the designer /artist but the contribution of the other two craftsmen cannot be under-estimated.

Production began with the artist who produced a detailed brush drawing on thin paper in a mixture of soot and glue. The wood-block cutter pasted the drawing face down onto a wood-block of Cherry wood. The back of the paper was scraped away so that only a very thin layer was left, then it was oiled to make it transparent and visible to the block carver. All of the surface of the block was cut away except the lines which remained raised on the wood-block.

To make a print the block was inked in a dark grey colour and the paper laid onto the block then rubbed on the back with a circular bamboo pad known as a baren. This key block was used to produce a number of prints on which the artist indicated the colours he wanted for each area of the print. New blocks were then carved for each subsequent colour and printed over the key block impression.

The paper used was known as Hosho it was soft and strong enough to withstand up to ten layers of print. Hosho paper was made from the inner bark of the Mulberry tree.


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