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Japanese woodblock prints of the 18th and 19th Centuries record an exotic,vibrant, colourful and highly sophisticated society in a form which constitutes a significant element in the history of world graphic art. The imagery takes the viewer into a world of Kabuki plays and actors, courtesans and beautiful women, heroes of legend, historical battles, the Japanese landscape, and erotica. Moreover, their design and the colour woodblock printing technique had an extraordinary and lasting influence on Western art and graphic design.
This long and rich heritage of print making experienced a renaissance both between the World Wars and into the modern era. The art form is well suited to the Japanese temperament which prizes excellent and precise craftsmanship, respect for materials, artistic sensitivity and an eye for composition, balance and colour.
As a result Japanese prints of all periods have been collected ever since Japan opened to the West in the mid-19th Century and continue to resonate with collectors, artists and the viewing public today.
Japanese illustrated books
For three hundred years until the end of the 19th Century, woodblock illustrated books were the creative medium for painters of all the major art schools. Little known outside Japan, these superlative volumes are now recognized as the finest illustrated books in the history of world graphic art.
Japanese books took two principal forms:
The orihon, in which the image is printed on the entire horizontal page, the pages are joined end to end, and each page is folded in the centre to enable the book to close, concertina fashion. These were used for only the finest of publications.
The fukurotoji in which two unrelated half pictures are printed on a single sheet, which is then folded down the centre back to back to form a double leaf to be stitched together with others to form the spine. These books used thin, supple and often translucent handmade paper without any backing.