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The Aesthetic Refinement of “Primitive Ukiyo-e”

Some of the highlights of the Honolulu Museum of Art’s collection of Japanese prints are its nearly 300 “primitive ukiyo-e”– those works produced during the first century of the movement’s history (1670s–1760s). Predating the invention of multiblock printing, these images relied heavily upon the fundamentals of graphic design, particularly line variation and bold tonal contrast, to evoke emotional responses from the viewer. In addition, some artists painted their finished prints, transforming them into truly unique treasures.

This rotation focuses upon three pioneers of ukiyo-e: the designers Hishikawa Moronobu (1631–1694) and Torii Kiyomasu II (1706–1763) as well as their publisher, Urokogataya Magobei (active c.1687 – c.1811). Moronobu, represented here with excerpts from his woodblock-printed book A Series of Pictures of Beautiful Women, created visual tension through his use of diagonals and rendered both text and figures with calligraphic linework. Kiyomasu II, alternately, enveloped his figures in intricate, lyrical patterns punctuated by carefully chiseled areas of stark black. The subtle aesthetic influence of their publisher, Magobei, can be gleaned through a comparison of these two artists’ styles.
Relevant research areas: Baroque, 18th Century, 19th Century, Relief printing

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