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

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) 53 Stations for the Tokaido Road (Hoeido Edition): Kuwana, 1834. Oban.

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One of Hiroshige’s finest prints, this masterpiece is from the first edition of his best (and also first) Tokaido Road series. Hiroshige made many different series of the great Tokaido Road - 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. As in this print, many points could only be crossed by boat or by bearers, bodily carrying travellers across stretches of water. 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.

Here Hiroshige depicts two large junks moored at the mouth of the Kiso River, and others sailing away to sea. To avoid crossing the numerous rivers flowing inland between Miya and Kuwana, travellers made their journey by boat. Hiroshige masses the boats, the escarpment and the houses to the far right of the print, expanding on his daring landscape composition style that came to define and to characterise his work throughout his career.

An outstanding print, full size (a rarity for this set), with good margins and including the rare (although rubbed) kiwame seal. There is some damage to the top corners, some foxing through age but generally a very good condition and state. The impression is very fine of the first edition, and the colour is excellent.

Published by Hoeido.

26 x 38 cm.