In Japan, the Edo Period lasted from 1603 to 1868, a period with expanded economic growth, flourishing arts and culture, and a strict societal structure for the people to follow. Controlled by a feudal system, two of the lower classes were local merchants and the artisans who produced art. At the beginning of the 19th century, three distinct styles of creativity emerged. The Heian culture perpetuated painting and changed the visual arts, the Ukiyo-e genre artists became the experts in the processes of woodblock prints, and with the spread of literature, the perfection of calligraphy was paramount to any composition.
Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) was one of the great masters who made full-color prints of courtesans and beautiful women. The process was complicated, and he carved a different woodblock for each color used in the image. The Snowball Fight(11.22) has multiple shades of gray, red, yellow, and black, each requiring a finely cut block. Cooling on Riverside(11.23), portrays three women, all dressed in colorful clothing, printed with a complicated set of blocks. The women in his prints were older and fuller than other artists. Frequently, he created diptychs or triptychs, making his work seem more significant and grander.
Ukiyo-e is a style of painting and printmaking based on several engraved plates, each color separately. Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was a master Ukiyo-e painter and produced one of the most notable and recognized prints in the world, the Great Wave off Kanagawa (11.24). Hokusai loved Mount Fuji and often traveled to paint his beloved mountain in a series entitled Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. The Great Wave depicts a tsunami type of wave threatening the boats in the water. Mt. Fuji is located on the coast near the center of the print, just under the soon to crash wave. Even though Mt. Fuji is Japan's tallest mountain, it appears small and unassuming under the wave. Hokusai uses perspective and delicate carvings, exposing the colors used to create this magnificent print.
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), another distinguished Ukiyo-e artist, journeyed throughout Japan, sketching landscapes. Hiroshige's most famous series, the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaiko, was based on travels Hiroshige took on trains around the countryside. Kanbara (11.25), a dark winter scene and Travelers Surprised by Sudden Rain (11.26), are examples of the detail he added to the images based on weather, requiring multiple woodblocks for the background colors. He produced an extensive portfolio of work; however, he gave up art to become a Buddhist monk.