The Lenoir C. Wright Collection

Inside the Floating World: Japanese Prints from the Lenoir C. Wright Collection

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Inside the Floating World: Japanese Prints from the Lenoir C. Wright Collection

2002, 97 pp., 100 illus., $35

Authors: Allen Hockley, Will South


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By the early 1700s, Edo (modern day Tokyo) had grown into a bustling metropolis of more than a million inhabitants and its vibrant urban culture became the inspiration for a new form of artistic expression known as ukiyo-e—floating world pictures. The floating world referred to the escapist and ephemeral pleasures offered in Edo's kabuki theaters and the Yoshiwara, a licensed brothel district on the northern outskirts of the city. Star actors and glamorous courtesans are the subjects of most floating world images, but as ukiyo-e artists were especially attuned to popular pastimes and pursuits, they also exploited the public’s love of travel and its fascination with samurai history. By the early nineteenth century, landscapes and warriors had been added to the repertoire of floating world images.

Ukiyo-e artists preferred the woodblock print medium because it was flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of artistic expression. The medium also facilitated mass production, from cheaply produced black and white images to luxurious full-color designs using exotic pigments and precious minerals. Successful designs were issued in several editions to meet popular demand. These prints carried Edo’s urban culture and floating world sensibilities far beyond their origins in the entertainment districts.

The Lenoir C. Wright Collection of Japanese woodblock prints at the Weatherspoon Art Museum is the only collection of its kind and depth in the State and numbers in excess of seven hundred works of art. The collection has recently been the focus of a major traveling exhibition accompanied by a catalogue by Dr. Allen Hockley of Dartmouth College.

 

Collection Highlights

Photo of Ono no Komachi

Hosoda Eishi (1756-1829)

Ono no Komachi - c. 1790

Photo of Comparison of Genroku Poem Shells: Abalone

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Comparison of Genroku Poem Shells: Abalone - 1821

Photo of The Heron Maiden

Isoda Koryûsai (1735-1790)

The Heron Maiden - 1779

Photo of Fujiwara no Yasumasa Plays the Flute by Moonlight

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)

Fujiwara no Yasumasa Plays the Flute by Moonlight - 1882

Photo of Woman Leaping from the Deck Of Kiyomisudera Temple

Ishikawa Toyonobu (1711-1785)

Woman Leaping from the Deck Of Kiyomisudera Temple - c. 1760