“Floating worlds: Japanese woodcuts” exhibition at Brighton Museum

brighton musuem

brighton musuem


I have visited exhibitions on Ukiyo-e (Japanese Woodblock prints) in Japan, France and London before, but never in Brighton. After reading some positive reviews on the “Floating Worlds: Japanese Woodcuts” exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, I decided to head to Brighton to see the exhibition before it ended.

Oddly enough, even though I have visited Brighton several times before, I have never been to the museum nor The Royal Pavilion. As I was approaching the museum located within the Royal Pavilion garden, I was immediately impressed by its architecture, which was built in a similar Indo-Saracenic style as the nearby Royal Pavilion.


brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem


Opened in 1873, the museum was one of the first purpose built museums in England. A major refurbishment costing £10 million took place in 2002, moving the entrance from Church Street to the Royal Pavilion garden, and its galleries redesigned with new interpretation.

The museum has a interesting collection of pottery, which was the collection of one of its founders. Henry Willett, a wealthy local brewer.  I was also surprised to see the 20th Century Art and design collection in the main gallery featuring artists and designers like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Eric Ravilious, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Grayson Perry etc.


brighton musuem  brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem  brighton museum

brighton museum

brighton museum  brighton musuem


The ukiyo-e exhibition occupied two rooms upstairs, and it showcased woodblock prints from the Edo period (1615-1868), which are part of the museum’s collection. Guided by haiku poetry, the exhibition enabled visitors to learn more about lives in Edo ( Tokyo) through the exquisite prints.

The term ‘ukiyo-e’ literally means ‘pictures of the floating world’. The ‘floating world’ referred to the ‘pleasure quarters’ that were filled with teahouses, Kabuki theatres and licensed brothels in Japan’s cities during the Edo period. The hand-carved and hand-printed prints depict actors, courtesans and geisha, who became style icons of their day. I love the detailed patterns on the kimonos of the courtesans and geisha, which reveal the splendid craftsmanship of the period.





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Besides the ‘pleasure quarters’, the exhibition also explored the Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers. Meanwhile, countryside and the transient seasons are common themes featured in ukiyo-e, alongside with Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, which was illustrated either explicitly or implicitly in the background.






Unlike the extremely crowded and overhyped Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, I utterly enjoyed this low-key and wonderful exhibition. It is hard to appreciate an exhibition in a stressful environment (where people kept pushing, chatting and refusing to move), hence the quiet and spacious setting of this exhibition truly enabled visitors to appreciate the poetic quality of the prints. I only wish that the museum will showcase more of its ukiyo-e prints to the public in the future, because they are just too beautiful to be locked away.


brighton museum

Drawings by the visitors at the exhibition


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