This course gives you the skills to get closer to Japanese ukiyo-e prints. How do we recognise the cast of characters in these works, from courtesans and actors to travellers and heroes? How were the prints made and sold? Through careful observation of artworks by artists including Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro, you’ll learn to ‘read’ the poetic imagery of this exquisite art form and gain a fuller understanding of its cultural context and visual qualities. To conclude the course, you’ll use this deeper appreciation to consider the significant impact of ukiyo-e on the development of art in the West, with a focus on Impressionism and the paintings of Monet and Van Gogh.
- Appreciation of the materials, process and innovations of Japanese woodblock artists
- Ability to analyse the visual language of ukiyo-e prints and decode key subjects, literary themes and seasonal signifiers
- Understanding of the arrival and context of Japonisme - the craze for collecting and engaging with Japanese art and objects - and its impact on 19th century western art
Image Credit: The Plum Garden at Kameido Shrine, print maker: Hiroshige (I) , Utagawa, publisher: Uoya Eikichi, 1857
Day 1: Paper and Ink: The Materials and Making of Ukiyo-e
Monday 7 March
We take a close look at the ‘ukiyo-e quartet’: the 4-part team of artist, carver, printer and publisher involved in producing vast numbers of popular prints for the townspeople of thriving Edo (Tokyo) and beyond. What were the key developments in printmaking that pushed this art form forward, culminating in the high precision and colour values of nishiki-e (‘brocade’ prints)?
Day 2: ‘Living only for the moment’: People and pleasures of the Floating World
Monday 14 March
We take a journey through the principal sites of urban pleasure-seeking, as reflected in the subjects of Japanese prints: the Yoshiwara district and the theatre. We investigate the meaning of ukiyo (‘The Floating World)’ as a dream-like space of entertainment and freedom of expression, and explore themes of beauty, celebrity and fashion.
Day 3: From Falling Blossom to Harvest Moon: Landscape through the Seasons
Monday 21 March
Our focus is on landscape prints, inspired by opportunities for travel and observation of nature beyond the city. We pay close attention to the theme of transience expressed through the depiction and symbolism of seasonal change, and follow the development of key series of landscape prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Day 4: Word and Image: Poetic language and Playful Parody
Monday 28 March
We expand our investigation of poetic imagery to include still life and luxury New Year prints, looking at the interplay of the written word and image. We explore the visual language of mitate-e (parody prints) and allusions to classical poetry. This lecture draws together what we have learned so far, by adding deeper layers of understanding to familiar subjects.
Day 5: Gained in Translation: Japonisme in 19th century Paris
Monday 4 April
In our final session, we look at the arrival of ukiyo-e in the West and consider the shared subject matter and cultural exchange of Japanese and Western artists in this period of rapid urban expansion. We’ll use visual analysis of specific examples to discern the aspects of Japanese prints that were admired and utilised by western artists including Monet, Van Gogh, Cassatt and Degas.
A lecturer in art history and observation, Karly Allen uses drawing and mindfulness approaches to foster close looking and engagement with art. She studied at the Ruskin School of Art (University of Oxford) and SOAS (University of London), where she received a masters with distinction in the art of Japan. Karly worked for the National Gallery for 18 years and was formerly Education Manager for the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace. She has lectured widely for UK museum collections for the past 20 years, including the Royal Academy, Courtauld Gallery, Wallace Collection and the V&A. As co-director of Limina Collective, Karly works with an international team of specialists in art-viewing with mindfulness.
Contact & Additional Information
Contact & Additional Information
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Video available to watch for 7 days after broadcast - Interactive Q & A with the academic, delivered over Zoom
For any queries about this course please contact
London Courses Department
+44 (0)207 665 4350