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In pictures: 2,500 stunning Japanese woodblock prints just entered the public domain

Catch Photodesk | Updated on: 22 June 2017, 19:08 IST
Print shows sightseers walking along pathway viewing cherry blossoms on the bank of the Sumida River. (Andō, Hiroshige (1797-1858))

The United States Library of Congress has recently released 2,500 rare Japanese woodblock prints from the seventeenth to early twentieth century into the public domain. The prints are to be part of the Library of Congress’ online collection, that includes the works of artists Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi, Sadahide, and Yoshiiku, amongst others.

The collection is defined by works belonging to pre-1915 Japan, and especially art movements popularly known as Ukiyo-e and Yokohama-e. 

Japanese print shows an English merchant seated at a table and being waited on by a Chinese man and a Thai cook during a banquet at a mercantile house in Yokohama, Japan. (Utagawa, Sadahide, (1807-1873))

In Japanese art history, the period between 1600-1868 is known as the Edo period, as most of the works were created and developed in Edo (modern day Tokyo). The pleasure quarters of the city, that included trendy restaurants, brothels and theatres, were the main source of inspiration for Ukiyo-e artists.

The floating world of Edo was the underlying theme during this period, and served as the constant muse for artwork.


Print shows many women gathering together, some still entertaining men, in a large open hall in the Shin-Yoshiwara pleasure district of Tokyo. (Utagawa, Toyoharu, (1735-1814))

Meanwhile, the art movement Yokohoma-e came much later in the late nineteenth century period. This movement is characterised by Japan’s exposure to foreign dignitaries and tourists, when the art scene opened up considerably.

Japanese artists moved away from Tokyo, and looked for inspiration in cities such as Yokohoma. They began to be influenced by western engravings and newspapers. Not surprisingly, the nature of the imagery changed as well, as artists began to sketch foreigners, locomotives, and a whole new array of imagery that marked the growing exchange between Japan and the West.

These are some of the prints that have recently been released. You can view the full collection here(https://www.loc.gov/collections/japanese-fine-prints-pre-1915/about-this-collection/).

Print shows a woman walking past a pine tree at the beginning of a journey. (Totoya, Hokkei (1780-1850))
Print shows Tsurunoo of Tsuru-ya, a courtesan, full-length, facing left, walking with two young apprentices and a male servant holding a parasol. (Isoda, Koryūsai (1764-1788))
Ukiyo-e triptych print showing a snowy landscape with a woman brandishing a broom and a man holding an umbrella. (Utagawa, Kunisada (1786-1864) and Andō, Hiroshige (1797-1858))
Print shows several women and a man viewing a snowy landscape with Mount Fuji in the background. (Katsushika, Hokusai (1760-1849))
First published: 22 June 2017, 19:08 IST