Hiroshige, Famous Places in the Eastern Capital - Shiba Shinmei Shrine

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) Famous Places in the Eastern Capital (Toto no meisho): Shiba Shinmei Shrine, 1834. Oban.

I find, (a personal note here) that many, many Hiroshige prints are quite ordinary. Some are simply exceptional and certainly changed the course of Japanese landscape art and thence European and American sensibilities. It is no exaggeration to say that Hiroshige’s sensibility… his 'snapshot' approach to views (however artful and considered) changed the way that early modernist paintings were framed, and by extension how photography then 'framed' the way that we experience landscape… even today.

This print is from a sometimes overlooked series that he worked on intermittently for ten years, between 1834 and 1843. Some prints are quite drab but some, such as this one are really outstanding. Indeed, Basil Stewart, the longstanding authority on Hiroshige describes the series in 1922 as:

The series of most uniform excellence is probably that entitled 'Toto Meisho' 'Celebrated (Views of) Edo'. (The Grounds of the Shiba Shinmei Shrine ('Shiba shinmei keidai'), from the series "Famous Places of the Eastern Capital", 'Toto no meisho'). Very soon after the publication of the First Tokaido, begins a notable series of Views of Yedo in similar format, the number of which has not been exactly ascertained. The issue extended over a period of not less than ten years; earlier examples having the red stamp of the publisher, Kikakudo, followed by others with the mark Sanoki, a "portmanteau" title derived from his private name Sano-ya Kihei; but both referring to the same firm. This series contains many fine specimens of the artist's powers. He depicts Yedo and its neighbourhood under every conceivable condition - lonely and deserted scenes, crowded streets, river festivals, flower viewing, temples, rain and snow, day and night - a wonderful panorama of the life and beauty of the Shogun's capital in the last phase of its existence under the old government. Tokyo, the modern Yedo, has been ravaged with fire and earthquake; the reforms of Meiji must already have obliterated much of the city that Hiroshige loved so well and painted so faithfully. One wonders whether the historical and topographical value of his prints - he must have made over 400 of this subject alone - has yet been realised by his fellow countrymen. Stewart, A Guide to Japanese Prints, Dutton & Co 1922.

This engaging print bears the first edition, red publisher’s mark. It is unusual that Hiroshige shows smiling women making their way from the distinctive eaves of the Shiba Shinmei Temple. The viewpoint is wholly and completely original… a marvellous invention of instant experience, conceived long before the advent of snap photography. The drawing disregards all the rules of perspective and, with its loose use of horizontal lines to break the rhythm of recessive space, realism also. And yet it works magnificently…. I am there, I see the women, I can feel the ground fall away into the valley. A fine piece of work.

A terrific print, red seal of the first, early edition, excellent impression, colour and condition. Note, this series often has the title block on the left hand side trimmed away.

A copy of this print is in the Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium Collection.

Published by Sanoya Kihei, of Kikakudo.

36cm x 24cm.