Click here for an extended essay on Edo - People and Places at the Toshidama Gallery Eblogger site.
Welcome to the second show of the Autumn at the Toshidama Gallery. We have tried to put together a selection of prints that suggest the close relationship between people and place… in the broadest sense. Japanese culture has for so long been dominated by the Shinto religion and by Buddhism. Both belief systems stress a close relationship to the natural world and to the presence of the sacred in the ordinary and everyday. In Shintoism, the pantheistic belief in sacred caves, groves and specific places seems to have given the art of the Edo period a special need to put figures in touch with a particular location.
There is an emphasis on location in the numerous print series dedicated to the stations of the Tokaido Road or the Kisokaido Road… and in Hiroshige’s work it is hard to find a print that does not contain people, scurrying from one place to another, witness to the enormity of nature and to the physical features in the landscape. We are showing two such prints in the current selection: The Spiral Hall of the Temple of the Five Hundred Arhats, from the series Famous Places in the Eastern Capital of 1834 and Shimada, from the series Fifty-three Stations of the Tôkaidô Road. In the outstanding and mysterious Shimada crossing, we look down upon two tributaries on a flood plain. For Hiroshige, his careful balance of landscape and figure bravely puts man in a secondary role to the span of the rivers, the sweep of the hills, the power of nature … all of the figures, the enormous procession of people are engulfed by the flood plain; people reduced to the importance of insects, overwhelmed by landscape.
Elsewhere, there is terrific history subject by Yoshikazu, Shinten-o Vanquishes a White Monkey On Kiso Mountain, from 1853. Here, the sense of place deftly imagines the fear and superstition of hostile landscape and populates it - as is so common - with terrifying creatures, in this case a gigantic, carnivorous monkey.
Even with actor portraits there is a need to tie them to a place or a location that reinforces the role or some attribute of an actor’s style. A good example is Kunichika’s series Famous Places of Edo from 1867, in which a full head and shoulders actor print is set against a scene or cartouche of somewhere that might have a connection with the figure. The print in the show is of the actor Kawarazaki Gonjuro as Mizuguruma no Gonji. We can detect a connection, visually, between the stylised crashing waves and aragato posing of the figure and the cartouche of stormy skies and lightning. Or what of Kunisada’s fine print of Hatsuhana, I can imagine this disembodied character forever trapped in her freezing waterfall in museum collections and drawers all over the world!
In other prints the connections are perhaps more subtle, Kunisada’s delightful print of Chiyo ni, from the series, Legends of Women of all Ages, finding poetic inspiration in the natural world. I very much hope that you enjoy this selection and that the accompanying explanations are helpful. I think it is always good to remember that these are truly outstanding works of art. Mostly they are identical to works in public museums across the world. It is possible to purchase, to own and to display a work of art that is more usually seen behind glass in a museum, for just a few hundred dollars in many cases. The prints on the site are all original, first editions unless otherwise stated and usually of museum collection quality. Wherever it is appropriate, we supply links to other copies in major collections.
If you wish to purchase something then do please subscribe to our newsletter to receive your 10% discount voucher. Prints are conservation mounted and despatched via DHL with full insurance and express delivery. There are further essays on Japanese prints and Japanese culture to be found on our Gallery Blog and on our Wordpress site.