Ukiyo-e: Images of the Floating World, Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Permanent Collection
The art of ukiyo-e flourished in Japan during the Edo period (1615-1867), an interval characterized by the introduction and marked growth of a literate and sophisticated merchant class in the country's urban centers, particularly in the city of Edo, modern Tokyo. Barred from foreign travel by the ruling shoguns, members of this group focused their attention on local amusements, frequenting the theater, visiting brothels, and adopting the most recent fads. This life of contemporary pleasure came to be known as ukiyo, or the "floating world," as though one might drift through life in a manner of a leaf floating downstream. Artists of the period turned increasingly toward the representation of this new subject matter. Specializing in genre scenes, portraits of actors and courtesans, and later, landscape, in a manner that reflected the most contemporary fashions and attitudes, their work became known as ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world."