Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Print du Jour.

Todays print of the day is this fantastic view by the famous Japanese woodblock artist Andô Hiroshige (1797-1858).

Saijo in Iyo Province
Andô Hiroshige (1797-1858)
Nishiki-e woodblock
Publisher: Koshimuraya Heisuke. Date: 1855 [Hare 9]. First edition. 
Ôban tate-e [13 1/4 x 8 7/8 inches]

Carver: Hori Soji.

A flock of geese fly high above the rooftops of Saijo, a bustling castle town founded in 1636 by Hitotsuyanagi Naomori. Situated in Iyo province, Shikoku, now known as Ehime prefecture, the area was dominated by fishermen and sailors who played an important role in defending Japan against pirates and Mongol invasions.In the background is Mount Ishizuchi, one of the seven sacred mountains of Japan.

Hiroshige is usually connected with landscape and nature prints. Together with Hokusai he is considered as the dominant figure of printmaking in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Ando Hiroshige was born under the name of Ando Tokutaro. He was born in Edo (Tokyo) as the son of a samuri and fireman. At the age of twelve, both his parents died. Two years later, in 1811, the young Hiroshige received a chance to join the famous Utagawa painting school. At that time, the Ukiyo-e master Toyohiro Utagawa was the head of the studio. In 1812 he was formally allowed to take the name Utagawa. From then on he called himself Utagawa Hiroshige. In the Ukiyo-e literature he is usually referenced as Hiroshige Ando.

From 1830 onwards, Hiroshige Utagawa tried his luck with a new genre - landscape prints. One of his great masterpieces is the series Tokaido gojusan-tsugi no uchi created from 1833 to 1834 with 55 Hiroshige prints in Oban format. In the literature you will find slightly varying English translations such as “Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido” or “From the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido”.

The Tokaido was a coastal highway connecting Edo with Kyoto, the residence of the emperor. The stations must be imagined as a kind of turn-pikes where tolls had to be paid. The stations had lodges and simple restaurants where travelers could spend the night and get a meal.

The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido became the basis of Hiroshige's fame and commercial success. For the next twenty years he concentrated his efforts on landscape prints.

Ukiyo-e publishing in the last century was not a cultural institution subsidized by public funds, but rather a commercial business like book publishing or film production in our own time.  Similarly to such modern day industries print publishing in the Edo period was linked very much to the demand for prints and their popularity within the public realm.  Hiroshige’s previous success therefore led him on to produce more series of the Tokaido.

His last great series Meisho Edo Hyakkei, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo is considered as one of his greatest masterpieces.

During his lifetime Ando Hiroshige was well known and commercially successful but  Japanese society did not take too much notice of him. Comparable to Utamaro, his real reputation started with his discovery in Europe. Hiroshige Utagawa died at the age of 62 of cholera on October 12, 1858 in Edo. With an output of an estimated 5,400 prints, Ando Hiroshige was one of the most prolific artists of Ukiyo-e.


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