The United States Library of Congress has released nearly 2,500 woodblock prints into the public domain in its online collection “Fine Prints: Japanese, pre-1915.”
The Library's Prints and Photographs Division online collection curates woodblock prints and drawings from two artistic traditions, Ukiyo-e and Yokohama-e from the Edo (1600-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods.
According to the Library of Congress, “The Japanese art of Ukiyo-e developed in the city of Edo (now Tokyo) during the Tokugawa or Edo Period (1600-1868), a relatively peaceful 250 years during which the Tokugawa shoguns ruled Japan and made Edo the shogunal seat of power.”
In terms of Yokohama-e, the Library of Congress notes that after new trade agreements with the West, Yokohama became a rapidly growing center of trade with the outside world starting in the 1850s:
For Japanese artists, the port city of Yokohama became an incubator for a new category of images that straddled convention and novelty. Building on methods of production and marketing established by Ukiyo-e artists and publishers, Edo print publishers began to send artists to Yokohama to sketch foreigners in situ. Bewhiskered men and crinoline-clad women were shown striding through the city, clambering on and off ships, riding horses, enjoying local entertainments, and interacting with an endless array of objects from goblets to locomotives.
The Library of Congress prints collection depicts a vast number of subjects including actors, women, landscapes, scenes from Japanese literature, daily life in Japan, and views of Westerners in Japan.
Here are just a few examples of the Library of Congress collection:
The full collection can be viewed here.
According to the Library of Congress, there are no known restrictions on this collection, and reproduction is allowed by “fair use“.