Thirty-Two Aspects of Women: 19th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints

October 6, 2001 – January 20, 2002

Murray and Ledger Galleries

During the Edo Period (1603-1867) the merchant class in Japan attained new prominence and wealth. This new class demanded objects that would mirror their own interests, everything from current events to fashion and entertainment. It was at this time that ukiyo-e was invented. The word ukiyo is a Buddhist term that means “the floating world.” This referred to our life span, the time that we “float” on earth. The word “e” refers to a picture or drawing. Ukiyo-e artists created images for the common people by focusing on subjects taken from daily life, assuming, in a sense, the role of the mass media for Japanese communities.

The last, and perhaps greatest, master of ukiyo-e was Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. His combination of traditional Japanese subject matter with western techniques led to the creation of his most popular work. In 1888 he completed Thirty-Two Aspects of Women, revealing his renowned capacity for portraying the complexity of women rather than portraying them as mere objects for the male gaze. This series traces the “history” and fashion of women during the century leading up to its printing. The “aspects” of women are humorously compared with the thirty-two identifying features of the Buddha. Colorful, beautiful, and fun, these prints are an extraordinary glimpse of Japanese art and culture.