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The Japanese tradition of woodblock printing dates back hundreds of years. From the 17th through the 19th centuries, inexpensive, hand-colored woodblock prints called ukiyo-e were mass produced as affordable art for the merchant classes. The primary subjects of ukiyo-e were flowers, birds, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, historical scenes, and landscape views. The preeminent masters of ukiyo-e were Katsushika Hokusai (circa 1760-1849), whose most famous work is Great Wave off Kanagawa, and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), best known for The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō (JAMA cover, November 13, 1996). In the late 19th century, when Japan established commercial and cultural relationships with Europe and North America, European artists encountered for the first time the compositional conventions of ukiyo-e prints, such as solid blocks of color and a tilted point of view to “flatten” the composition by bringing the foreground and the background into the same picture plane. Many 19th-century Western painters adopted Japanese perspectives and techniques: the French painters Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Gauguin; the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh; and the American painters James McNeill Whistler (The Art of JAMA, February 2, 2016) and Mary Cassatt were all influenced by ukiyo-e aesthetics.
Cole TB. MoonYoshida Hodaka. JAMA. 2016;315(6):538-539. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.14099