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Ukiyo-e from the Meiji period


Hiroshige III | Japan 1843-1894 | Regulations of the horse tram (right-hand panel of a triptych) 1882 | Colour woodblock print on paper | 36 x 23.8cm (comp.) | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Ukiyo-e artists of the Meiji period drew inspiration from the dynamic society in which they lived, and some of the most interesting imagery emerged at this time. Meiji prints are characterised by their vibrant colour palette, busy composition and multiple perspectival lines, and were influenced by the medium of photography as is evident in prints by Taiso Yoshitoshi and Utagawa Yoshifuji.

The subjects observed by ukiyo-e artists were rich and varied. Many documented the great changes and challenges of the time, from the signing of the constitution and major geopolitical conflicts in the region to the shifting circumstances of daily life in the flourishing settlements of Yokohama and Tokyo. For example, Kobayashi Kunichika and Ogata Gekko’s stirring scenes of major land and sea battles played an important role in building national unity and pride.

The printed image during the Meiji period provides a glimpse of the dynamics of Japanese society during this time. Brought together, they illustrate a sequence of events that form a much broader picture of how Japan entered the international community at the dawn of the modern age.