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With the establishment of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) as the major political and commercial center of Japan in the seventeenth century, artists developed a new imagery, known as ukiyo-e. Masters of the genre explored the daily activities of the city's inhabitants and detailed the stylish preoccupations of the "Floating World"—the theaters and the brothels. While many of these artists, such as Harunobu, Utamaro, and Hokusai, are well-known in the West for their woodblock prints, it was in the medium of painting that they actually received their major commissions.

The Japanese press has hailed the Museum's collection of more than 700 ukiyo-e paintings as the finest anywhere in the world. Despite the collection's acclaim, "Drama and Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World 1690–1850" marks the first exhibition highlighting the Museum's holdings of these works.

 

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