A genre of art, chiefly in the medium of the woodblock print, that arose early in the Edo period (1600-1868) and built up a broad popular market among the middle classes. In the late 19th century ukiyo-e prints had a profound influence on the paintings of French impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. Subject matter tended to focus on the brothel districts and the kabuki theaters, and formats ranged from single-sheet prints to albums and book illustrations.
Ukiyo-e flourished throughout Japan, attaining their most characteristic form in the prints produced in Edo (now Tokyo) from about 1680 to the 1850s. Kitagawa Utamaro achieved a heightened closeness to his subjects by using the format of the okubi-e or bust portrait. Utamaro’s women are often sensuous, even sensual, to an extreme. Katsushika Hokusai developed a style that was highly individual, combining Chinese and Western influences with elements drawn from the native tradition. His series of landscape prints Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji had begun to appear by 1831. He was also a prolific draftsman who employed a variety of techniques to create the astounding array of images in his famous 13-volume Hukusai manga (1814-1849, Hokusai’s Sketches). Hokusai’s only true rival in landscape was Ando Hiroshige, whose The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road series brought him fame and a host of imitators.