In the 17th century, Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo (now Tokyo) were Japan’s thriving cities, complete with bustling entertainment districts where ukiyo, or the “floating world,” was born. People of all ranks shared in the enjoyment of the floating world’s attractions—brothels, kabuki theater, and seasonal festivities. Artists of the period captured this popular phenomena in ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world.” Over the last 25 years, Roger Weston has assembled an outstanding collection of ukiyo-e paintings—masterpieces by the most famed artists of the day. This exhibition, the first public showing of his comprehensive ukiyo-e painting collection in the United States, showcases the sheer beauty of floating world painting and offers an exclusive view of the urban amusements of early modern Japan.
In contrast to ukiyo-e woodblock prints, which were created in multiples and consequently well circulated, ukiyo-e paintings were one-of-a-kind works commissioned from the same artists celebrated for their prints, including Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro. Lavish and unique objects, the paintings were conceived in various forms—folding screens, hanging scrolls, handscrolls, and albums—and emphasize the makers’ talent and technical skill. Until recently, these compelling works were not often collected in large numbers outside of Japan, making the quality and range of the Weston Collection all the more extraordinary.
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