Life in a floating world: Japanese Ukiyo-e in the University of Melbourne’s Print Collection

Life in a floating world: Japanese Ukiyo-e in the University of Melbourne’s Print Collection is the name of a new display in University House at the Woodward Centre. Conceived and arranged by Museums and Collections student intern, Mona Mi, this exhibition of seven Japanese woodcuts from the Edo period comprises prints produced by several Japanese Ukiyo-e artists from the early 18th century to the mid 19th century from the University of Melbourne’s Baillieu Library Print Collection.

Japanese woodblock prints (Ukiyo-e) are renowned for their distinctive lively images and for their influence on European Impressionist artists. Typically they illustrate leisure and entertainment, stories derived from folklore and history, figures, drama theatre and landscapes, and are associated with the Edo period (1615-1868). The subjects include kabuki actors, story characters and landscapes. The selected works are indicative of the diversity of the cultural collections at the University of Melbourne and provide an opportunity to view these iconic representations of Japanese culture at close hand.

The seven prints displayed include woodblock prints from the Torii School, which is well-known for its depiction of kabuki, as well as works by artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige II, the pupil of Utagawa Hiroshige, who inherited his master’s skill in depictions of the landscape, Utagawa Kunisada, who was known for his portrayal of actors and beauties, and Kitagawa Utamaro, who specialised in presenting the personalities of women through art.

Utagawa Kunisada I, Tattooed villain seeking a victim, 1859. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne

Image: Utagawa Kunisada I, Tattooed villain seeking a victim, 1859. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne