Hiroshige II, Scenes of Famous Places Along the Tokaido Road Station 40 - Odawara

Utagawa Hiroshige II (1826 -1869) Scenes of Famous Places Along the Tokaido Road Station 40: Odawara, 1863. Oban.

We are showing several prints from a rare and unusual series; prints from this late Tokaido road set do not often come onto the market and it occupies a curious position, perhaps to do with the circumstances surrounding its commission. The 250-year Tokugawa Shogunate was on its last legs: the enforced opening of Japan’s borders in 1854, followed by famine and crop failure and a collapsing economy had fatally weakened the Shogun’s power. He would lose authority to the Emperor just two years after this series was completed. As a sign of weakness and a poor grasp on power, the Shogun determined on a procession from the political capital Edo to the Imperial capital, Kyoto. In an unprecedented step, the authorities commissioned a woodblock series from fifteen of the leading ukiyo-e artists of the time - I think that this must be the first officially commissioned print series of all time. Artists included Hiroshige II, the aged Kunisada, Sadahide, the young Yoshitoshi and the young Kunichika among others.

This one series brings together the artists of the Utagawa School in one quite unique effort. From an art historical point of view, the fascinating aspect of all the prints is their homogeneity - despite the widely differing generations and individual styles it is very hard at times to distinguish between say, the work of the youthful Kunichika and Kunisada, now in his 78th year.

The series consists of possibly 160 prints. Horst Graebner on his site Kunisada Project has devoted a great deal of time to cataloguing all of the known prints and much of the information currently available on the series.

The prints in the series are notable for their high quality of production, but also the strong visual imagery used. Many, such as this one are graphically very inventive and there seems to be a clear, common effort to use the best possible motifs for each of the images. A notable feature is the presence of the processing Shogun and his vast retinue, visible here in the mid-foreground, which gives the series its common name of The Processional Tokaido. Hiroshige II here borrows motifs of crashing waves breaking on the shoreline from his mentor and father-in-law, Hiroshige I. This is a dramatic composition, the foreground filled with the vast waves, the viewpoint almost impossible even from a fishing boat. The lines of the waves are double cut - two near identical lines next to each other, giving the impression of movement.

Like many of the series, the print is trimmed to the image on three sides, otherwise, colour, condition and impression are all fine.

Signed Hiroshige ga, published by Itoya Shohei.

35cm x 22cm.