Download Hundreds of 19th-Century Japanese Woodblock Prints by Masters of the Tradition

Goyu No. 35

We recent­ly fea­tured hun­dreds of Van Gogh’s paint­ings, sketch­es, and let­ters down­load­able from Ams­ter­dam’s Van Gogh Muse­um. But despite its name, that respect­ed insti­tu­tion has­n’t devot­ed itself entire­ly to the work of the 19th-cen­tu­ry post-impres­sion­ist painter; they’ve also got a seri­ous stock of art from rough­ly the same peri­od but the oth­er side of the world in the form of Japan­ese wood­block prints. And like their Van Gogh mate­ri­als, they’ve made them avail­able to all of us in high res­o­lu­tion files, free for the down­load­ing in their online col­lec­tions.


All of us will rec­og­nize this style of Japan­ese art, but not all of us will know its Japan­ese name: ukiyo‑e, or “pic­tures of the float­ing world” — that is, the world of scenic trav­els through strik­ing land­scapes as well as urban beau­ties, sports­men, actors, and ladies of the night that bloomed from the 17th to the 19th cen­turies.

Not only did that heady peri­od of Japan­ese his­to­ry pro­vide these wood­block prints their sub­jects, it also pro­vid­ed the tech­nol­o­gy used to pro­duce them with increas­ing col­or and com­plex­i­ty as well as a mer­chant-class audi­ence to pur­chase them as home decor.

On the Riverbank

The Van Gogh Muse­um’s selec­tions come from a time of dom­i­nance by a few still-acknowl­edged ukiyo‑e mas­ters whose names you’ll know, like Kat­sushi­ka Hoku­sai and Uta­gawa (also known as Ando) Hiroshige, the lat­ter of whose work the online col­lec­tion has 83 pieces cur­rent­ly down­load­able. One of them, Goyu from one series of illus­tra­tions of notable places and Yokkaichi: The Mie­gawa Riv­er and Nago Bay from anoth­er, appear at the top and sec­ond from the top. But the Van Gogh Muse­um has amassed even more work by Uta­gawa Kunisa­da, the most pro­lif­ic and best­selling ukiyo‑e artist of the day, whose On the River­bank, one sheet of a trip­tych, we have just above.

Crossing the Sumidawaga River

You can down­load any of the more than 500 pieces in the online col­lec­tion by these and dozens of oth­er ukiyo‑e artists (such as Toy­ohara Kunichi­ka, whose Illus­tra­tion of Cross­ing the Sum­i­da Riv­er in the Evening appears just above) by click­ing on the down arrow that appears in the low­er right when you view an indi­vid­ual image. Hav­ing just returned from a trip to Japan a cou­ple weeks ago, I can report that the coun­try has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly and in many ways from the one Hoku­sai, Hiroshige, Kunisa­da and their col­leagues cap­tured, but still, some durable part of their aes­thet­ic essence remains. Besides, these prints must even at the time have had some­thing of the ele­giac about them, itself an endur­ing qual­i­ty of Japan­ese art. “Even in Kyoto,” as the poet Mat­suo Masho wrote two cen­turies before that, “I long for Kyoto.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hayao Miyazaki’s Beloved Char­ac­ters Reimag­ined in the Style of 19th-Cen­tu­ry Wood­block Prints

A Won­der­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed 1925 Japan­ese Edi­tion of Aesop’s Fables by Leg­endary Children’s Book Illus­tra­tor Takeo Takei

Down­load Hun­dreds of Van Gogh Paint­ings, Sketch­es & Let­ters in High Res­o­lu­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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