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Nishimura Shigenobu, Shoki and Girl, c. 1720s. Woodblock print with hand-coloring and lacquer (urushi). Hosoban. 13 in. x 5 5/8 in. Nishimura, Shoki and Girl.jpg
Nishimura Shigenobu, Shōki and Girl, c. 1720s. Woodblock print with hand-coloring and lacquer (urushi). Hosoban . 13 in. x 5 5/8 in.
Okumura Toshinobu (active 1717-50), 'Young Lovers by Mount Fuji', About 1720, urushi-e (lacquer print) V&A Museum no. E.1419-1898 Urushie.jpg
Okumura Toshinobu (active 1717–50), 'Young Lovers by Mount Fuji', About 1720, urushi-e (lacquer print) V&A Museum no. E.1419-1898

Urushi-e (漆絵 "lacquer picture[s]") refers to three different techniques in Japanese art. Though urushi-e is most associated with woodblock, the term urushi-e is not exclusive to that medium. It can also refer to pictures using lacquer as a paint on three-dimensional lacquered objects; [2] and paintings using actual lacquer on paper or occasionally silk.



In Japanese woodblock printing, urushi-e generally refers to a hand-painted technique. Instead of printing with urushi (natural lacquer) it was painted on by hand. This meant that urushi-e pictures could be more colorful than most block prints of the time. [3] Five colors were available when the technique was first developed; brown, yellow, green, red, and black. [3] Urushi-e was sometimes used as a term to describe all hand-painted woodblock prints in Japan, not only those painted with lacquer, [4] however, only urushi-e used iro-urushi, meaning colored lacquer, made from mixing clear lacquer and one of the five pigments. Artists such as Nishimura Shigenaga c.1680s-1750 were also known to use black ink thickened with hide glue to attain a lacquer-like effect on some on his prints. [5] In addition to colored lacquer, gold was sometimes applied to urushi-e works in the form of gold leaf and powders. [3]


Urushi-e woodblock prints were made using thick, dark black lines, and were sometimes hand-colored. The ink was mixed with an animal-based glue called nikawa , which thickened it and gave it a lustrous shine, said to resemble lacquer. Most often, this was used not in creating the entire print, but only in enhancing a particular element, such as an obi or a figure's hair, to give it shine and make the image more luxurious overall. [5]

Prints which include urushi-e elements are likely to also feature the use of mica, metal dusts, and other elements which enhanced the appearance, quality and value of the works. The technique was most popular in the early 18th century Japan during the Edo era and can be seen in works by many artists of the time.[ citation needed ]


In painting, the term refers to the use of colored lacquers, produced by mixing pigments with clear lacquer. The use of colored lacquer for painting goes back to the prehistoric Jōmon period, and became especially popular in the Nara period (8th century), when a great many works were made using red lacquer against a black background. Until the 19th century, however, the use of natural pigments restricted the colors accessible to artists to red, black, yellow, green, and light brown.[ citation needed ]


Artist Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891) is known for his innovations in this regard, and is believed by some to be the first to use lacquer not just as a decorative element (in painting boxes, furniture, and pottery) but as a medium for painted scrolls. Zeshin experimented extensively with various substances, which he mixed with lacquer to create a variety of effects, including simulating the appearance of various metals (iron, gold, bronze, copper), and imitating the appearance and texture of Western oil painting. [6]

Other artists who used the technique include:

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Ukiyo-e</i> Genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries

Ukiyo-e is a genre of woodblock prints and paintings which flourished in Japanese art from the late 17th to late 19th century. Aimed at the prosperous merchant class in the urbanizing Edo period (1603–1868), its subjects included female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folktales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. The term ukiyo-e (浮世絵) means "floating world picture[s]".

Woodcut Relief printing technique

Woodcut is a relief printing technique in printmaking. An artist carves an image into the surface of a block of wood—typically with gouges—leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts. Areas that the artist cuts away carry no ink, while characters or images at surface level carry the ink to produce the print. The block is cut along the wood grain. The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller (brayer), leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas.


The term lacquer is used for a number of hard and potentially shiny finishes applied to materials such as wood or metal. These fall into a number of very different groups.


Lacquerware are objects decoratively covered with lacquer. Lacquerware includes small or large containers, tableware, a variety of small objects carried by people, and larger objects such as furniture and even coffins painted with lacquer. Before lacquering, the surface is sometimes painted with pictures, inlaid with shell and other materials, or carved. The lacquer can be dusted with gold or silver and given further decorative treatments.

Color printing or colour printing is the reproduction of an image or text in color. Any natural scene or color photograph can be optically and physiologically dissected into three primary colors, red, green and blue, roughly equal amounts of which give rise to the perception of white, and different proportions of which give rise to the visual sensations of all other colors. The additive combination of any two primary colors in roughly equal proportion gives rise to the perception of a secondary color. For example, red and green yields yellow, red and blue yields magenta, and green and blue yield cyan. Only yellow is counter-intuitive. Yellow, cyan and magenta are merely the "basic" secondary colors: unequal mixtures of the primaries give rise to perception of many other colors all of which may be considered "tertiary."

Kitao Shigemasa

Kitao Shigemasa was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist from Edo. He was one of the leading printmakers of his day, but his works have been slightly obscure. He is noted for images of beautiful women (bijinga). He was taught by Shigenaga and has been referred to as "a chameleon" who adopted to changing styles. He was less active after the rise of Torii Kiyonaga and produced relatively few works considering the length of his career. He is also noted for his haikai (poetry) and shodō. In his later years he used the studio name Kosuisai.

Okumura Masanobu was a Japanese print designer, book publisher, and painter. He also illustrated novelettes and in his early years wrote some fiction. At first his work adhered to the Torii school, but later drifted beyond that. He is a figure in the formative era of ukiyo-e doing early works on actors and bijin-ga.

Shibata Zeshin

Shibata Zeshin was a Japanese lacquer, painter and print artist of the late Edo period and early Meiji era. He has been called "Japan's greatest lacquerer", but his reputation as painter and print artist is more complex: In Japan, he is known as both too modern, a panderer to the Westernization movement, and also an overly conservative traditionalist who did nothing to stand out from his contemporaries. Despite holding this complicated reputation in Japan, Zeshin has come to be well regarded and much studied among the art world of the West, in Britain and the United States in particular.

The Torii school was a school of ukiyo-e painting and printing founded in Edo. The primary producers of kabuki theater signboards and other promotional materials, the Torii were among those whose work led to the development of ukiyo-e. Their style was one of the primary influences in the ukiyo-e depiction of actors and kabuki scenes for much of the 18th century. Still today, kabuki signboards are sometimes painted by members of the Torii family.

Woodblock printing in Japan Ancient technique for reproducing images or text

Woodblock printing in Japan is a technique best known for its use in the ukiyo-e artistic genre of single sheets, but it was also used for printing books in the same period. Widely adopted in Japan during the Edo period (1603–1868) and similar to woodcut in Western printmaking in some regards, the mokuhanga technique differs in that it uses water-based inks—as opposed to western woodcut, which typically uses oil-based inks. The Japanese water-based inks provide a wide range of vivid colors, glazes, and transparency.

Torii Kiyomasu II

Torii Kiyomasu II was a Japanese ukiyo-e painter and woodblock printmaker of the Torii school, a specialist, like the rest of the Torii artists, in billboards and other images for the promotion of the kabuki theatres. Scholars are unsure as to Kiyomasu II's relation to the original Kiyomasu who came a few decades earlier; they may have been close relations, or master and student, or they may have been the same man.

Japanese lacquerware

Lacquerware is a Japanese craft with a wide range of fine and decorative arts, as lacquer has been used in urushi-e, prints, and on a wide variety of objects from Buddha statues to bento boxes for food.

Kobayashi Kiyochika

Kobayashi Kiyochika was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, best known for his colour woodblock prints and newspaper illustrations. His work documents the rapid modernization and Westernization Japanese underwent during the Meiji period (1868–1912) and employs a sense of light and shade called kōsen-ga inspired by Western art techniques. His work first found an audience in the 1870s with prints of red-brick buildings and trains that had proliferated after the Meiji Restoration; his prints of the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95 were also popular. Woodblock printing fell out of favour during this period, and many collectors consider Kobayashi's work the last significant example of ukiyo-e.

Benizuri-e are a type of "primitive" ukiyo-e style Japanese woodblock prints. They were usually printed in pink (beni) and green, occasionally with the addition of another color, either printed or added by hand.

Ishikawa Toyonobu

Ishikawa Toyonobu was a Japanese ukiyo-e print artist. He is sometimes said to have been the same person as Nishimura Shigenobu, a contemporary ukiyo-e artist and student of Nishimura Shigenaga about whom very little is known.

Utagawa Toyoharu

Utagawa Toyoharu was a Japanese artist in the ukiyo-e genre, known as the founder of the Utagawa school and for his uki-e pictures that incorporated Western-style geometrical perspective to create a sense of depth.

Iriyama Hakuo was a lacquer artist from Shirone, Niigata in Japan. He began training as an apprentice in his family at the age of 15, and developed his own technique of painting, which he referred to as shitsuga.

Nishimura Shigenaga

Nishimura Shigenaga was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist.

Okumura Toshinobu

Okumura Toshinobu was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist. He is the only known student of Okumura Masanobu; many of his works nonetheless appeared from publishers other than Masanobu.


  1. "Young Lovers by Mount Fuji". Asia. Victoria and Albert Museum . Retrieved 2007-12-12.
  2. Brommelle, N. S.; Smith, Perry (1988-12-01). Urushi: Proceedings of the Urushi Study Group, June 10–27, 1985, Tokyo. Getty Publications. ISBN   9780892360963.
  3. 1 2 3 "JAANUS / urushi-e 漆絵". www.aisf.or.jp. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  4. Seidlitz, Woldemar von; Amsden, Dora (2016-03-09). Impressions of Ukiyo-E. Parkstone International. ISBN   9781785257384.
  5. 1 2 "Honolulu Museum of Art » A Parody of the Immortal Kinkö". honolulumuseum.org. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  7. "The Actor Sanogawa Mangiku I as Sanada, the daughter of the spinner Itoya, with an attendant in the play "Hiragana Yomeiri Izu Nikki," performed at the Nakamura Theater in the eleventh month, 1718". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  8. "The Actor Yamashita Kinsaku I as a peddler of tooth-blackening dye". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  9. "Courtesan Riding a Carp (parody of the Daoist Immortal Kinko [Chinese: Qin Gao])". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  10. "Saigyo Hoshi". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2019-10-24.