||The term ukiyo-e refers to a style of woodblock printing from the Edo period (1603 – 1867) which has become among the most widely known and admired styles of art from this period. Ukiyo-e is composed of three characters – uki, meaning ‘floating’ or ‘transitory’; yo, meaning ‘world’; and e, meaning ‘pictures’ or ‘images’ and translates to “images of the floating world.”
Known for their representation of contemporary urban life with its quick-paced liveliness and excitement, many ukiyo-e artists depicted the pleasures of the kabuki theatre, courtesan and geisha culture. Historical and legendary events as well as landscapes also became popular topics for ukiyo-e.
Edo society was stratified into four main classes consisting of samurai, farmers, craftsmen and merchants. Merchants were among the lowest class, even though they controlled most of the wealth. The aristocratic class viewed ukiyo-e as cheap and showy, while the noble classes and samurai commissioned and owned expensive scroll paintings and screens for their large homes.
Many ukiyo-e prints were in fact posters, advertising theatre performances and brothels, while others depicted the traditional Japanese love of nature. Ukiyo-e were inexpensive and mass-produced for the common people, especially the new and prosperous merchant class who purchased them from street vendors or small open shops. The demand for quickly executed images encouraged the cooperation of several persons with very different skills - the artist, the block carver, the printer and the publisher.
||Against the Grain exhibit, University of Alberta Museums (2007)