The ephemeral nature of life

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Ukiyo-e, which means “pictures of the floating worlds”, are Japanese traditional prints. These artworks depict the ephemeral, changing and fragile nature of life.

Ukiyo-e first reached Europe through The Netherlands, the only country authorized to have commercial relationships with Japan in the late 19th century . Dutch sailing companies were the only suppliers of Japanese goods to Western countries. All the objects were wrapped in Ukiyo-e so that to avoid breakage during the trip. These wrappings did not really possess any artistic value in Japan, but were highly appreciated in Europe. Early collectors were artists including prominent ones like Monet, Van Gogh, and many others. 

Hokusai is maybe the most famous Japanese Ukiyo-e artist in Europe, known for the Great Wave off Kanagawa and Mount Fuji Views. He influenced a great number of impressionist artists like Monet and Gauguin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hiroshige, another master of the Ukiyo-e movement, greatly influenced Van Gogh’s style.

“Japonism was associated with modernity. To be a painter living a modern life, you needed to assimilate and use ideas coming from Japan” — Marc Restellini 

I had the opportunity to visit Hokusai museum in Obuse, a small village in the Japanese Alps close to Nagano. The master spent a few years there while in his eighties. Hokusai was indeed greatly inspired by his natural surrounding.

I like Ukiyo-e because you can actually feel the mood and soul of the artist who created it. You will find below some of my favorite Ukiyo-e. 

One of the purposes of my visit to the Japanese Alps was to be in the presence of the scenery of such pieces of art. Hopefully, I was surrounded by them and they inspired me the Floating Worlds photo series.

Ukiyo-e by Terasaki Kogyo, Yoshijiro Urushibara, Tsuchiya Koitsu, Hasui Kawase, Shiro Karamatsu, Watanabe Shotei, Kitagawa Utamaro and Ohara Koson.