Enter a Digital Archive of 213,000+ Beautiful Japanese Woodblock Prints

Most of us have now and again seen and appre­ci­at­ed Japan­ese wood­block prints, espe­cial­ly those in the tra­di­tion of ukiyo‑e, those “cap­ti­vat­ing images of seduc­tive cour­te­sans, excit­ing kabu­ki actors, and famous roman­tic vis­tas.” Those words come from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, whose essay on the art form describes how, “in the late sev­en­teenth and ear­ly eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, wood­block prints depict­ing cour­te­sans and actors were much sought after by tourists to Edo and came to be known as ‘Edo pic­tures.’ In 1765, new tech­nol­o­gy made pos­si­ble the pro­duc­tion of sin­gle-sheet prints in a range of col­ors,” which brought about “the gold­en age of print­mak­ing.”

At that time, “the pop­u­lar­i­ty of women and actors as sub­jects began to decline. Dur­ing the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, Uta­gawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) and Kat­sushi­ka Hoku­sai (1760–1849) brought the art of ukiyo‑e full cir­cle, back to land­scape views, often with a sea­son­al theme, that are among the mas­ter­pieces of world print­mak­ing.”

Even if you’ve only seen a few Japan­ese wood­block prints, you’ve seen the work of Hiroshige and Hoku­sai, thou­sands of exam­ples of which you can find in the vast Japan­ese wood­block data­base of Ukiyo‑e.org.

This Eng­lish-Japan­ese bilin­gual site, a project of pro­gram­mer and Khan Acad­e­my engi­neer John Resig, launched in 2012 and now boasts 213,000 prints from 24 muse­ums, uni­ver­si­ties, libraries, auc­tion hous­es, and deal­ers world­wide. You can search it by text or image (if you hap­pen to have one of a print you’d like to iden­ti­fy), or you can browse by peri­od and artist: not just the “gold­en age” of Hiroshige and Hoku­sai (1804 to 1868), but ukiyo-e’s ear­ly years (ear­ly-mid 1700s), the birth of full-col­or print­ing (1740s to 1780s), the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of wood­block print­ing (1804 to 1868), the Mei­ji peri­od (1868 to 1912), the artist-cen­tric Shin Hanga and Sosaku Hanga move­ments (1915 to 1940s), and even the mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary era (1950s to now).

That last group includes wood­block prints of styles and sub­ject mat­ter one cer­tain­ly would­n’t expect from clas­sic ukiyo‑e, though the works nev­er go com­plete­ly with­out con­nec­tion to the tra­di­tion of pre­vi­ous mas­ters. Some of these more recent prac­ti­tion­ers, like Dan­ish-Ger­man-Aus­tralian print­mak­er Tom Kris­tensen, have even gone so far as to not be Japan­ese. Kris­tensen, who “works in typ­i­cal­ly Japan­ese ‘sosaku hanga’ style: self-carved and self-print­ed with nat­ur­al Japan­ese pig­ments on hand-made washi paper,” has pro­duced works like the 36 Views of Green Island series, of which num­ber 21 appears below. The surf­boards may at first seem incon­gru­ous, but one imag­ines that Hiroshige and Hoku­sai, those two great appre­ci­a­tors of waves, might approve. Enter the dig­i­tal archive here, and note that if you click on an image, and then click on it again, you can view it in a larg­er for­mat.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 2,500 Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints and Draw­ings by Japan­ese Mas­ters (1600–1915)

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

What Hap­pens When a Japan­ese Wood­block Artist Depicts Life in Lon­don in 1866, Despite Nev­er Hav­ing Set Foot There

Splen­did Hand-Scroll Illus­tra­tions of The Tale of Gen­jii, The First Nov­el Ever Writ­ten (Cir­ca 1120)

Japan­ese Kabu­ki Actors Cap­tured in 18th-Cen­tu­ry Wood­block Prints by the Mys­te­ri­ous & Mas­ter­ful Artist Sharaku

Behold the Mas­ter­piece by Japan’s Last Great Wood­block Artist: View Online Tsukio­ka Yoshitoshi’s One Hun­dred Aspects of the Moon (1885)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, 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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Comments (3)
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  • Ron Ogle says:

    I cer­tain­ly appre­ci­ate your gen­eros­i­ty and dili­gence. Thank you for these prints.

  • Richard Parr says:

    John, this is my go-to site for my Ukiyo‑e ques­tions. It is pret­ty easy to use and I love the forum with the experts that can pro­vide answers to my ques­tions about artists and prints. The links to the muse­um and oth­er col­lec­tions are use­ful to com­pare my prints with oth­er ver­sions. This is a great resource — thanks a mil­lion! Shabbyukiyoe.com

  • My Auction Sheet says:

    Fabulous..such good ser­vice.” Thank you… I have nev­er had such good ser­vice.

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