Hiroshige, 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road (Hoeido Edition) - Tsuchiyama

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road (Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi No Uchi): Tsuchiyama, 1833 - 34 (Hoeido Edition) Yoko-e oban.

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A real Ukiyo-e masterpiece this challenging work… that extraordinary composition; Hiroshige the unlikely designer of European modernist landscape! The subject here is rain. Relentless, wetting rain coming down like stair rods. Hiroshige puts the rain centre stage; by conventional western tradition, the focal point of this image is blank. The action, the waterfall, the figures… the break of trees is all happening away from the centre of the picture. The design clusters, like people sheltering from the rain, at the left and right corners, a bold, innovative and completely unexpected strategy.

It is a masterwork… images like this and others from the ground-breaking first (great) Tokaido Road series changed how we look at landscape, how we see the world and how we record travel. It is all wrong that these scarce things should be relatively undervalued… lucky us, those who appreciate these beautiful prints, that they are still affordable.

This fine and baffling print is from the first edition of the first series of the many series depicting the stations of the Tokaido Road that Hiroshige was due to make in the next twenty years.  The Hoeido Edition is the best and most collectible of these.  

The Great Tokaido Road was the artery that connected Edo to Kyoto. A rambling and winding route, the Tokaido snaked up and down mountain passes, forded rivers where there were no bridges, skirted the sea and crossed inhospitable, marshy land. Much of it, even in 1832, we would not today recognise as a road, resembling more of an English bridleway in places. Even so, through necessity, the road was travelled by every class of person, including the biannual trips made by powerful Daimyo and their entourages of up to 20,000 men.

Basil Stewart, the first authority on Hiroshige, says of the series in his monograph of 1925: 

On his return, in 1834, he completed his sketches of the Tokaido, which were then published in album form, and became an immediate success, landscape having never before, in the history of Ukiyoye, been so treated. Hiroshige himself took particular pains over their production, and supervised the engraving and printing. Hence it is that this "Great Tokaido" series, as it is known to distinguish it from other and later series, the first edition of which was produced under his supervision, constitutes, in the opinion of collectors, Hiroshige's most famous work as a whole.

There are, of course, other landscape series, some of which are rarer, certain of them much rarer, and which contain many masterpieces, besides his first Tokaido set, but the latter remains his magnum opus, as it was through this he made his fame as a landscape artist.

A justly famous print, of the first great edition. Colour and impression are fine, condition is outstanding, without the usual centre crease. The print has been professionally re-margined.

Published by Hoeido. 

37 x 25 cm.