Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints extending in time from the early eighteenth century to the early twentieth. It was followed by the early twentieth century genres of Shin-hanga and Sosaku-hanga, which carried forward some of the Ukiyo-e sensibilities while adding their own characteristics, particularly in the adoption of visual techniques from Western art.
From the mid-nineteenth century forward, in particular — when new methods of printing in color were developed, and a greater number of people had resources to buy art — these prints became increasingly popular in Japan, as well as in Europe and the U.S. (where they had a distinct influence on artists).
Just as the internet has in general made images of great artworks more available, it has also facilitated the ability to access art images across cultural boundaries, and images of Ukiyo-e prints are widely available on the web.
Finding them, however, has always been a hit-and-miss proposition; resources are scattered and even naming conventions are inconsistent (made more difficult by the occasional Western reversal of the order of Japanese names, and the fact that many of the artists were known by different names over the course of their careers).
Ukiyo-e Search is a wonderful new project by programmer and Japanese print enthusiast John Resig that begins to address that situation by providing an intelligent search tool for finding Japanese woodblock prints in a well organized interface, as well as allowing the ability to search for similar prints across multiple sources.
The images are hosted on the site, in a consistent manner, with links to the original source. They are also usually large enough to get a good feeling of the original.
In the initial browsing pages, when you roll your mouse over a thumbnail, it loads a range of thumbnails that you can browse by moving the mouse across the image.
There is also a blog, in which Resig posts about about prints and related subjects.
The project is still in its early stages, and is just, in Resig’s words: “a demonstration of what’s possible”. The website, correspondingly, has something of a Beta feel, and there is a subscription available to be notified of updates.
However, with a well thought out interface and access to over 200,000 prints, it’s already a delight for those of us who enjoy these works, but have only a passing familiarity with the many artists who might be of interest.
It’s also extensive enough, even at this stage, that I’ll give it my Major Timesink Warning.
[Note: a few (very few) of the images are distinctly NSFW and not suitable for children]
(Images above: Utagawa Toyoharu, Hokusai Katsushika, Inoue Yasuji, Utagawa Fusatane, Tsuchiya Koitsu, Fujishima Takeji, Watanabe Shotei, Shotei Takahashi, Yoshida Hiroshi)