Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) The ‘Upright’ Tokaido Road #43: Kuwana - Ferryboats at Shichiri, 1855. Oban.
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One of the best from the last significant print series that Hiroshige made of the fifty-three post stations punctuating the great Tokaido Highway that stretched from the Imperial Capital at Kyoto to the administrative capital at Edo… modern day Tokyo.
To the uninitiated, the title, The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road, must seem fairly meaningless. The road stretched between the two great cities, Edo and Kyoto. By decree, so called post stations were set up at approximately a single day’s walking distance to enable travellers to make the journey on foot. Japan was an equable and civilised society from the settlement of the medieval period. There was a strong administration that set strict laws for behaviour and a ruthless legal system to ensure moral and civil obedience. Hence travel along this highway was nothing like as dangerous or uncomfortable as in England, say.
Hiroshige made the journey from Edo to Kyoto in 1831 and he produced a series of woodblock prints to illustrate each stop. He was not the first artist to do this but he quickly became the most famous. Relaxation of laws of travel meant that his first series was received with tremendous enthusiasm… both souvenirs, artworks and guide book all in one! Hiroshige continued to produce new series on the subject of the Tokaido Road in a variety of sizes and formats, the vertical one illustrated here being the last significant contribution… he was to die a couple of years later.
They remain hugely collectible. Significantly, this and the first series are the greatest and most valued. One of the great innovations of Hiroshige was composition… framing. Whereas artists before him (significantly western artists as well) had arranged the picture as if it were a window looking out upon an idealised scene, Hiroshige’s view appears almost random… in this case he chops off the back of the large boat on the left and the smaller boat on the right. Another artist might have pulled the frame back in order to reveal complete shape of both craft; as it is we have a strong sense of ‘being there’, as the boat sails into the picture. This new approach to realism predicts innovations in photography and by extension, in landscape technique in the west. It is hard really to imagine the landscapes of many of the post-impressionists without the influence of Hiroshige.
This tremendous print is one of the best in the series; it shows the fortifications of Shichiri, the harbour and the ferry boats coming in. The vertical format was unfavoured by Hiroshige, although it was used in his famous series, One Hundred Views of Edo. It encouraged a changed perspective for the views, hence in this print he was able to play with the scale of the main ferry boat, its mast and sail, by bringing the image up to the picture plane… a trick he used on this and very famously, on the Hundred Views.
Colour and impression are all fine, the print is full size, with margins, condition is excellent.
Published by Tsutaya Kichizō (Kōeidō)
24cm x 36cm.