Life, Beauty and Pleasure of Ukiyo-e: Japanese Woodblock Prints of Edo

Opening Reception March 15, 2013   6-8 pm

A rare collection of over 40 vintage Japanese woodblock prints, drawn from two private collections, will be exhibited at the James Cox Gallery at Woodstock. Launching the gallery’s Spring exhibition season, Life, Beauty and Pleasure of Ukiyo-e: Japanese Woodblock Prints of Edo will open Friday, March 15th with a reception from 6-8pm.  The exhibit will be on view through April 14th.

Following the success of the gallery’s 2010 exhibition The Floating World: Art of Japanese Printmaking, the staff at the James Cox Gallery is excited to offer a fresh selection of Japanese woodblock prints. This exhibition highlights some of the most renowned Ukiyo-e masters of the 19th and 20th centuries and a offers a glimpse at the daily life, beauty and Kabuki actors of Edo (now Tokyo) and the Yoshiwara (the ancient city’s pleasure district).

The exhibition encompasses over 100 years (1810-1920) of Ukiyo-e (meaning “Pictures of the Floating World”) artistry and examines the surprising modernity in style and subject of this traditional art form.  Nineteenth century Ukiyo-e masters such as Hiroshige, Kunisada, Toyokuni III, and Eizan are among the seventeen artists represented by this collection of full color, oban size and multi-panel prints.  Following the evolution of the genre, one can see a stylistic progression into the twentieth century in the stunning prints by Hasui, Yoshida and Kasamatsu.  Many of the works on view are in especially fine condition, with color that looks as fresh as if the piece had just been pulled from the block. Gallery owner James Cox explained that, “One of the collections from which we have drawn examples was amassed over four decades. The second comes to us from the son of a Manhattan Japanese art dealer who was active in the 1950’s.”

The genesis of Cox’s special interest in Ukiyo-e goes back to the 1980’s when, as director of the Grand Central Art Galleries (New York, NY), he organized a landmark traveling exhibition and accompanying catalog entitled La Femme: The Influence of Whistler and Japanese Print Masters on American Art, 1880-1917.  “That show traveled for two years and spurred a deeper understanding of the aesthetic bridge between Western and Eastern art.  The experience left me with a sincere appreciation of the masters of this unique art form,” says Cox.

Born during the rise of the merchant class in the 17th century when there was a high demand for images of contemporary life and culture, this new style was made by and for the people of Edo.  In addition to drawing from classical themes, which had traditionally been enjoyed by the ruling elite, these artists incorporated their own personal experiences, creating popular images of gentile women (beauties or “bijin-ga”), favorite kabuki actors (always men), impressive landscapes, famous warriors (Ninja) and courtesans of the pleasure district.  Ukiyo-e was a collaborative process involving artists, calligraphers, block cutters, printers and publishers – each exhibiting the highest level of specialized skill and producing world renowned quality. Gallery curator Bryana Devine commented, “It’s incredible how fresh and modern these prints still seem today, knowing they are over 100 years old.”  At the time they were produced they were popular images collected by the people of Edo and fans of the Yoshiwara.  “It is exciting to see the similarities to our contemporary sense of graphic design,” Devine added.  “Their subjects, expressive line, bold compositions, and graphic, geometric patterns impacted the development of modernism in Western art and remain striking and alluring today.” – Bryana Devine for the James Cox Gallery

Life, Beauty and Pleasure of Ukiyo-e: Japanese Woodblock Prints of Edo will be on view at the James Cox Gallery throughApril 14, 2013 and online at  The Gallery is located at 4666 Rte. 212,Willow,New York, seven miles west of the Woodstock Village Green.  For more information, please call 845-679-7608 or

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