Utagawa Kunisada, Lovers, in the book An Appraisal of Sensual Pleasure (Shiki no nagame). Color woodcut, ca. 1830s. Collection of Arthur Tress
Reading the Floating World: Japanese Ukiyo-e Books from the Collection of Arthur Tress
The flowering of popular culture during Japan's Edo period (1600–1868) brought about a revolution in Japanese publishing and the art of the book. With prosperity and the spread of literacy, particularly among the merchant class, a great variety of reading material developed, including illustrated books of poetry, legends and folk-tales, romances, and travel guides. Other categories, including picture books (ehon), artist instruction manuals (gafu), and erotic books developed around life in the "floating world" (ukiyo), the lively subculture that flourished in the licensed pleasure quarters of cities such as Edo (today's Tokyo), Osaka and Kyoto.
This second exhibition celebrating Japanese books from the collection of noted photographer Arthur Tress has as its focus the many kinds of books favored by ukiyo audiences, including books with woodcut illustrations of actors, courtesans and beautiful women, samurai warriors, ghosts, and the wonders of the natural world. Outstanding among them are books illustrated by some of the famous artists of the time including Utagawa Kunisada's Shiki no nagame (An Appraisal of Sensual Pleasure), an opulently designed book from the 1830s picturing love scenes in extravagant settings.