The Floating World Emerges: Selections from the Clarence Buckingham Collection, Part I



Japanese prints of the floating world (ukiyo-e) trace their origins to
 many influences. Perhaps the foremost factor was the lifestyle that
 emerged following the great fire of 1657, in which 100,000 Tokyo 
residents perished and vast portions of the city were destroyed. Just
 a few years later, in 1665, the writer Asai Ryoi described the 
floating world as “living only for the moment, turning our full
 attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms 
and the maples, singing songs, drinking wine, and diverting ourselves 
just in floating, floating, caring not a whit for the poverty staring 
us in the face." It therefore seems that the calamity of 1657 changed
 the mind and spirit of the country.

It was in this atmosphere that ukiyo-e developed. Seventeenth-century 
prints and paintings of women wearing elaborate kimonos appealed to the 
townsmen’s sense of fashion and style. Kabuki actors and their 
hedonistic existence were exciting. Courtesans played a significant 
role in a society that accepted and even worshiped them. The printed 
image was a convenient way to give the people what they wanted, and it
 was commercially viable to produce images that the townsmen could keep 
as mementos. Single-sheet prints like those on display here were only
 one form of the printed image. Floating world novels and critiques of
 actors and courtesans were published in large editions. Single-sheet 
prints that glorified the theater and the pleasure quarters or 
recalled ancient myths and legends were published and distributed. A 
large audience developed and ukiyo-e flourished and retained its
 appeal for almost 200 years.

This exhibition features about 35 of the earliest ukiyo-e prints in
 the Art Institute's collection dating from the late 17th to the
 first half of the 18th century and includes many of the 
collection's most famous works.


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