A GUIDE TO JAPANESE PRINTS - BASIL STEWART
HOKUSAI AND HIROSHIGE, AND THEIR PUPILS
HOKUSAI (1760-1849) is generally classed as a landscape artist, as his chief work was done in this field, though he drew almost everything that could be drawn. He lived entirely for his work, and became the master-artist of Japan, dying at the age of eighty-nine, after a life of incessant work and almost continuous poverty, with the regret upon his lips that he had not been granted a longer spell of life to devote to his idol art.
No artist adopted so many artistic names with which to bewilder the collector of the present day as Hokusai.
As a pupil of Shunsho, at the age of nineteen, he used the name Shunro, but owing to a quarrel with his master, due, it is said, to his having taken lessons from a painter of the Kano school, he left Shunsho's studio in 1785, and started for himself as an independent artist.
Sori, Kako, Taito, I-itsu, are some of the names he used in addition to that by which he is universally known, and as he often passed them on to a pupil when himself adopting a new name it is not always possible to say if a print signed Taito, for example, is by the master or the pupil of that name.
For instance, a well-known print, signed Katsushika Taito, representing a carp swimming in a whirlpool, is by some authorities attributed to Hokusai, and by others to the pupil, but the latter has the more numerous supporters. Many of Hokusai's prints are signed "Hokusai Mad-on-drawing" (Gwakio jin Hokusai), thus showing the fervour of his spirit. Other names he used are Shinsai and Manji.
A signature Hokusai sometimes used on surimono reads "Fusenkio" or "Furakkio," meaning " tired of living in same house," in allusion to his constant change of residence, as he is said to have altered his place of abode nearly a hundred times during his long lifetime.
Hokusai's masterpieces, by which we recognize him as one of the world's greatest artists, are the following series:
"The Imagery of the Poets," a series of ten large vertical prints, issued about 1830. This series is very rare, particularly in a complete set.
"The Thirty-six Views of Fuji" (Fugaku San-ju Rok'kei), with the ten additional views, really forty-six views, full size, oblong. Some prints in this series are much rarer than others, and really good copies of any are not easy to procure, though poor and faded copies are fairly common of some of them. The three rarest and most coveted by collectors are The Great Wave; Fuji in Calm Weather; and Fuji in a Thunderstorm, with lightning playing round its base. The first of these, The Great Wave, has been described, more particularly by American collectors, as one of the world's greatest pictures; and certainly, even if this description is perhaps some-what exaggerated, it is a wonderful composition, such as could only have emanated from the brain and hand of a great master. This series was issued between 1823 and 1829.
"The Hundred Poems explained by the Nurse" (1839). Of this series only twenty-seven prints are known to exist, and Hokusai never completed it. About fourteen original drawings, which were never used for producing prints from, are also known. Moderately rare as a whole, some plates being much rarer than others.
"Travelling around the Waterfall Country," a set of eight vertical prints, about 1825 ; rare.
"Views of the Bridges of various Provinces," a set of eleven oblong prints, similar to the " Views of Fuji " series, about 1828 ; rare.
Ryukyu Hak'kei, "Eight Views of the Loo-choo Islands" ; full size, oblong, c. 1820 ; very rare.
Modern reproductions and reprints of all the foregoing series are met with, particularly his "Imagery of the Poets," "Waterfalls," and "Views of Fuji" series.
The various prints comprising the foregoing series are described in detail elsewhere in this volume in the chapters dealing with landscape as a subject of illustration.
Besides landscape scenes and innumerable single prints, Hokusai designed some very fine - and very rare - bird and flower studies, of which modern reproductions exist, many surimono, and a very large number of book-illustrations. Amongst the latter may be mentioned his famous "Hundred Views of Fuji," and his Mangwa (sketches). It is computed that altogether he produced some thirty thousand drawings and illustrated about five hundred books (Von Seidlitz).
Of Hokusai's pupils, of whom about fifteen to twenty are known, Totoya HOKKEI (1780-1850) is considered the foremost, and excelled even his master in the design of surimono, a fine example of which is illustrated at Plate E, in colour, signed "copied by Hokkei," being taken from a painting of the Tosa school. He also illustrated books.
Another pupil famous for his surimono is Yashima GAKUTEI (w. 1800- 1840), who also designed a set of very fine land and seascape drawings, full size, oblong, for a book, "Views of Tempozan" (Tempozan Shokei Ichiran, Osaka, 1838) (see Plate 19). A description of the prints comprised in this set will be found in Chapter XV.
A third good designer of surimono is Yanagawa SHIGENOBU (1782-1832), the scapegoat son-in-law of Hokusai, whose daughter, Omiyo, he married. This Shigenobu must not be confused with a later Ichiryusai Shigenobu, the pupil of Hiroshige, better known as the second Hiroshige, and a considerably less capable artist (see Plate 8.)
Shotei HOKUJIU (w. 1800-1830) is remarkable for his curious landscapes, done in a semi-European manner, known as Rangwa pictures, meaning literally "Dutch" pictures, as it was from the Dutch, the first Europeans allowed to trade with Japan (and then only under severe restrictions), that the idea of perspective, as we understand it, was learnt by Japanese artists.
His mountains are drawn in a very peculiar angular manner, almost cubist in effect, and his clouds are cleverly rendered by means of gauffrage. These characteristics are clearly shown in the print by him reproduced at Plate 19, page 132.
Shunkosai HOKUSHIU (w. 1808-1835) was another pupil of Hokusai, who designed figure-studies, in which the dress is sometimes rendered in gauffrage, a method of heightening the effect of colour-printing generally confined to surimono. Hokushiu, however, employed it largely in his ordinary full-sized prints.
Considering the very large number of landscape designs produced by Hokusai, one would have expected a corresponding activity on the part of his pupils in the same direction. As a matter of fact, but few of them seem to have turned their brush to this class of subject, and even then only to a limited extent, Hokujiu being almost the sole pupil who persevered in landscape design beyond an initial effort, and his prints are by no means common.
The others appear to have confined themselves almost entirely to the production of surimono, actor-portraits, and figure-studies, showing that, great as was the demand for the landscapes of Hokusai and Hiroshige, the populace still hankered after their favourite subjects from the theatre, street, and Yoshiwara. The names of several are given in Appendix III, and a fine surimono by SHINSAI illustrated at Plate 8.
Ichiryusai HIROSHIGE (1797-1858) shares with Hokusai the reputation of being the foremost landscape artist of Japan. He showed signs of the latent talent that was in him as a boy, and received his earliest tuition in painting in the studio of an artist, Rinsai by name, of the Kano school. On the death of his parents, at the age of fourteen, he applied for admission to the school of Toyokuni, but there being no vacancy for him, he turned to Toyohiro, who accepted him as a pupil. This was in 1811; in the following year his master gave him the artist names of Ichiyusai Hiroshige, the first of which he changed, on the death of Toyohiro, in 1829, to Ichiryusai. This small change of but one letter in his first name is important, as by it we can distinguish between his early work, and that of his middle and later periods.
We now come to what was destined to be the great turning-point in his career. In 1830 he was commissioned by the Tokugawa Government, in whose service he was as a doshin, or official, to go to Kyoto and paint the ceremony of "presenting the horses," which it was the custom of the Shogun to send to the Emperor every year at Kyoto. It was not unusual for government officials in those days to eke out their slender salaries by adopting some other profession, such as painting, as well, hence Hiroshige's selection for this post.
Deeply impressed by the scenery of the Tokaido on his journey from Yedo to Kyoto in company with the party in charge of the horses, he made sketches on the way of each of the fifty-three relay stations along the road, resolving thenceforth to devote himself to landscape painting. To this end he spent three years travelling throughout Japan on a sketching tour after his return from Kyoto, his wife accompanying him on his journeyings and defraying all expenses, for which his official salary was quite inadequate.
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.
It is generally through his landscapes that the collector first becomes acquainted with Japanese colour-prints, and through which he is attracted to them. Hiroshige's prints more nearly approach our ideas of pictorial representation than those of any other artist of Ukiyoye, with the exception perhaps, though to a less extent, of Hokusai, yet at the same time he remains essentially Japanese.
Hiroshige gives us the effect of atmosphere and mist, sunrise and sunset, snow and rain, in his designs which Hokusai, with his sharper and more vigorous outline, does not. The latter's scenes are full of that restless activity which reflects his own untiring energy, an energy which nothing could damp, while misfortune merely spurred him to greater effort.
Hokusai, also, treats his subject from a different standpoint to Hiroshige; the former depicts the relationship of man and nature to each other with a vividness not found in Hiroshige's compositions. Hiroshige shows us the real world as he saw it passing before him along the great highway he so realistically portrayed. Hokusai, on the other hand, puts before us his idea of it, as he saw it in his mind's eye, making the grandeur and force of nature his principal theme, and his humanity merely subordinate to it.
These divergent characteristics are well shown in Hokusai's Great Wave, a picture contrasting the all-devouring force of nature and the littleness of man, and Hiroshige's Autumn Moon on the Tama River, from his "Eight Environs of Yedo" series, considered one of his masterpieces in landscape, a scene of infinite peace and quietude (see Plate 22, page 144). Of like nature is his Homing Geese at Katada, from his "Eight Views of Lake Biwa" series, representing a flock of geese flying to rest at twilight.
To compare the work of these two masters is difficult, if not invidious; their characteristics are so distinct one from the other, and their prints are admired for such different reasons. Much of Hiroshige's work is of a later period than that of Hokusai. Hiroshige's earliest work is assigned to about the year 1820 ; Hokusai had produced prints before 1800. The entirely different colour-schemes employed also render it difficult to make comparisons ; while the later and inferior impressions of many of Hiroshige's later series which are so relatively numerous, are a libel upon his powers as a colourist. His best work, namely his " Great Tokaido " series, is equal to anything Hokusai produced ; but on the whole it must be said that the latter's work shows a much higher average quality throughout, whereas that of Hiroshige varies to a considerable extent, many of his later series containing some inferior designs, apart from those obviously the work of his pupil.
Though this falling off was no doubt due to increasing age, yet in the case of Hokusai, who lived very nearly half as long again as Hiroshige, his work shows practically no traces of advancing years, in fact it improves. As he himself says, he did not expect to become a really great artist till he had reached the age of eighty, while he was dissatisfied with everything which he had produced prior to his seventieth year.
Fenollosa, one of the leading authorities on the artists of the Ukiyoye, while he classes Hokusai in the first rank, puts Hiroshige in the third only, though his classification refers to them as painters, while he does not specifically class them as colour-print designers.
There is, however, this great difference between Hokusai and Hiroshige. The latter was a great colourist; Hokusai was both a draughtsman and colourist.
As an actual draughtsman Hiroshige is not eminent; the beauty and charm of his prints lie almost solely in their colouring, and the atmospheric and other effects obtained thereby, which are due to the co-operation and skill of the engraver and, more particularly, the printer, who should receive the merit rather than the artist. In plain black and white outline, most of Hiroshige's prints would fail to arouse any particular enthusiasm, while, on the other hand, Hokusai's skill as a draughtsman is but enhanced by the colour-effects of his prints, so that his illustrations in black and white only and his designs for prints are as interesting as the colour-prints themselves.
We have seen the view put forward (and it is one which we consider very probable), that it was because the engraver and printer were often so much the better artists than the designer himself, that their seals, more particularly that of the engraver, are occasionally found on prints besides the artist's signature.
Where Hiroshige has turned his brush to the illustration of subjects outside the province of pure landscape, he has generally not been particularly successful (at times, indeed, very bad), unless the landscape element happens to predominate in the general composition. Even in purely landscape scenes, an otherwise effective composition is often spoilt by the crude drawing of the figures introduced, particularly if they are at all prominent in proportion to their setting.
The fact that the artist only supplied the design which was destroyed on cutting the outline or key-block, and gave instructions as to the colours to be employed, somewhat modifies the answer to the question, "Is the work of one artist better, or of greater value, than that of another?" as the artist was almost entirely at the mercy of his engraver and printer, upon whose combined skill the excellence of the finished print depended. Added to this, there must be taken into account the fact that the same engraver and printer might be employed upon the designs of more than one artist, just in the same way that a printer does not confine himself to producing the books of only one writer. It is to be regretted that the engravers of these prints are almost totally lost in oblivion, and that nothing is known of them, and only a comparatively few prints even bear their mark, as it is due to them that the most beautiful pictorial art in the world came into being, or at least in such a form that it could be enjoyed by thousands, where a single painting is but the delight of a select few.
A print is associated only with the artist whose signature it bears, or whose work it is known to be, or, in doubtful cases, to whom it is attributed. Yet the excellence of the print, and, in consequence, the reputation of the designer, rested with the engraver and printer. As pointed out above, the beauty of most of Hiroshige's work is due to the skilful co-operation of printer and engraver.
While Japanese literature tells us much about the artists, it is silent about the engravers, upon whom the former were so dependent for their reputation as designers. This lack of recognition was no doubt due to the fact that the engraver was looked upon as nothing more than a mere mechanic-albeit an extremely dexterous one--whose sole province was to reproduce, line for line and dot for dot, the design given him by the artist.
His work, therefore, was purely mechanical, and wonderful as it may appear to us from the point of view of manual skill, there was nothing original about it; it was pure copying. Had the original drawing been preserved, and only a copy made for the engraver to work from, we should then have been able to compare his work with the original.
There is, however, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, a block which has been cut from a copy of the artist's drawing, in this case an illustration to a book of birds by Kono Bairei. The original drawing, the copy, the block, and a print therefrom, are shown together for sake of comparison; notwithstanding the intervention of the copyist, it is very difficult to say which is the print and which is the original drawing, so skilfully has the engraver done his part.
Little as is our knowledge of the engraver, it is even less in the case of the printer. While a print occasionally bears the mark of the former, the writer can only recall a very few instances, from amongst many hundreds of prints examined, of sheets bearing the name or mark of the printer. Both, however, are often given on illustrated books.
In the writer's opinion, since these prints are (or should be) collected for their aesthetic charm, the standard to be aimed at is one in which subject and artistic merit come first.
The artist's signature is not, by itself, sufficient to satisfy the discriminating collector whose chief desire is to possess beautiful examples of these prints. Beauty of drawing, harmony of colour-scheme, and all those qualities which appeal to his artistic sense, should form the chief consideration.
To the true collector a work of art is no better or no worse for being the product of one person rather than another. To pay a high price for a picture or print merely because it is - or is supposed to be - the work of a particular master, is a mistake, if the purchaser does not consider that, at the same time, it is worth that sum from an artistic point of view, and that its possession will bring him proportionate satisfaction.
Hiroshige's numerous landscape and other series are described in detail elsewhere, but certain single prints, which are reckoned his chief masterpieces as such, cannot be overlooked in any reference to him.
These are two large kakemono-ye and three very fine triptychs.
The former are the famous Monkey Bridge by Moonlight (date about 1840 ; publisher Tsutaya ; title Koyo Saruhashi), and Snow Gorge of the Fuji River (publisher Sanoki ; no title). Both these kakemono-ye (formed by joining two full-size vertical sheets together) are extremely rare; a good copy of the Monkey Bridge, for example, is probably worth to-day from £250 to £300 (see Plate 61, page 340).
It is not unlikely that there was originally a third one, of Cherry Blossoms, making a Settsu-Gekka series of "Snow, Moon, and Flower," a favourite subject of illustration with artists, but no such print has ever been found (see Note, Appendix II).
There is also in existence a very rare small panel print measuring 8¾ in. by 4½ in., under the same title, Koyo Saruhashi, showing the bridge between the tops of the tree-clad cliffs on either side of the gorge, and a solitary foot passenger crossing over to the right bank, and below the bridge a full moon across the face of which is a flight of wild geese. Signed Hiroshige; no publisher's mark nor date-seal; kiwame seal next signature.
The following are Hiroshige's famous landscape triptychs :
1. Kiso-ji no Yama Kawa, "Mountain and River on the Kiso Road." A huge mass of snowy mountains fringed, here and there, with scattered pines, and broken into narrow ravines, down which pour torrents into the main river in the foreground. Title on narrow upright panel, and signature on right-hand sheet; dated Snake 8 (1857); publisher, Tsutaya (Kichizo).
2. Kanazawa Ha'ssho Yakei, "Full Moon on the Eight Views of Kanazawa." A magnificent land and seascape of the inlet of Kanazawa, looking across to a hilly coast-line opposite ; in the centre rises an island at whose base shelters a fishing village, and connected by a level isthmus with the mainland; overhead shines a full moon.
Title on narrow upright label on right-hand sheet; signature on left sheet; publisher, Tsutaya; dated Snake 7 (1857).
3. Awa no Naruto Fukei, "View of the Rapids of Awa no Naruto." A wide view of the channel dividing the islands of Shikoku and Awaji, the sea foaming in whirlpools as it rushes over the sunken rocks; in the fore-ground rise two small rocky islands. Across the channel rises a hilly coast. Title on label on right-hand sheet, signature on left; publisher, Tsutaya; dated Snake 4 (1857). (See Note, Appendix II.)
Amongst other famous single sheets by Hiroshige is a large vertical print, measuring 15 in. by 7 in., known as the "bow-moon," representing a crescent moon seen through a narrow gorge, behind cliffs spanned by a rustic bridge. This large panel forms one of a set entitled Tsuki-niju-Hak'kei, "Twenty-eight Views of the Moon," of which only this and another plate, a full moon rising behind a branch of a maple tree, are known. The series was, therefore, apparently not completed.
The bow-moon is illustrated in colours in the frontispiece to Mr. Ficke's book, and the original, in flawless condition, realized $475 (£95 at normal exchange) at the sale of his collection in New York, February, 1920.
Yet a third famous moonlight scene of Hiroshige's is another panel (14½ x 5), "Moonlight at Tsukuda-jima," showing a cluster of huts on an island, and junks moored in the foreground, the whole scene bathed in the light of a full moon, and a flight of birds across the sky. This print forms one of a panel series of Toto Meisho (Yedo Views).
Two other very fine snow scenes should also be recorded. One is a panel print (15 x 5), forming one of a series, Shiki-no-Yedo Meisho, "Famous Yedo Views at the Four Seasons," a man poling a raft along the Sumida River past a steep, snow-covered slope, at the foot of which are rows of piles; a grey sky full of falling snow-flakes. Signed Hiroshige.
The second is a full-size, upright sheet from a very rare series, Wakan Royei Shu, "Poems from China and Japan"; publisher Jo-shu-ya; title on a red narrow upright label in white characters, and poem alongside on sky background. Peasants crossing a bridge over a stream running through a mountainous country; in the background looms up a great white mountain; signed Hiroshige fude.
Hiroshige in his very early days, while still a pupil of Toyohiro, designed figure-studies, in response, we presume, to the insistent demand for this class of subject, before his genius for landscape diverted public taste into another channel. Such designs are very rare, and are interesting both for comparison with the work of recognized figure-study designers and for the fact that they represent the skill of an artist in one direction who made his name by striking out in another. Plate 7 reproduces a figure-study by Hiroshige from a series entitled "A Mirror of Faithful Courtesans," this being a portrait of Umegawa of Tsuchiya. It shows, also, the earliest form of Hiroshige's signature. Another figure-study by Hiroshige is reproduced, full page, in the Happer Sale Catalogue.
Another (also very rare) set of figure-studies done between 1840 and 1850 is mentioned in Chapter XXXIV.
Of Hiroshige's pupil, Ichiyusai SHIGENOBU (w. 1840-1866), afterwards Hiroshige H, little need be said. As a rule his work, which closely follows that of his master, is very inferior, though at times it was of sufficient merit to compare very favourably with it, but he lacked originality and merely trod in the footsteps of his master.
As seems to have been a common habit with pupils, Shigenobu, on the death of his master, married his daughter, and at the same time assumed the great name. Six years later he divorced his wife, went to Yokohama, changed his name to Rissho, and died there in 1866.
Another pupil of Hiroshige, Shigemasa, married the divorced wife of Shigenobu and assumed the master's name as Hiroshige HI. He is, how-ever, a wholly commonplace and unimportant artist. He died as recently as 1894.
Reference has already been made to those landscape series which, while attributed as a whole to Hiroshige, yet contain certain views contributed by the pupil, and pointing out by certain characteristics how such may be distinguished from the work of the master. One series, at least, entirely by Hiroshige II, entitled " Thirty-six Views of Toto " (i.e. Yedo), contains some plates equal to any of the master's similar series, when carefully printed (see Plate 29, page 178).
Another series of Yedo views (oblong), printed almost entirely in blue, is also above his usual work, the purity of the blue atoning for the, at times, somewhat faulty drawing (see Plate 7).
This series was published by Senichi, and bears the date 1862. These blue prints owed their origin to an edict issued in 1842, and which was in force for nearly twelve years, limiting, amongst other restrictions, the number of blocks that might be used. It must be admitted that the printers overcame this restriction in a remarkably effective manner. It is not unlikely that this edict, which also prohibited the sale of prints depicting actors and courtesans, was one of the causes (perhaps, even, a very important cause) that contributed to the decline and extinction of the art of the print-designer. Official interference and restrictions were bound to have an injurious effect upon an art which owed its existence to its ability to cater for the tastes of the multitude. Circumscribe and limit these tastes, and it is bound to suffer. It was from the date of this law that censor's and inspector's seals had to appear on all prints, a custom which was continued after the edict ceased to be in force. By prohibiting prints of actors and courtesans, by limiting the number of blocks which might be used, and the size of compound prints to triptychs, the law was aiming at raising the morals of the community and checking extravagance. This legal restriction of the subjects allowed to be portrayed naturally created a great demand for the landscape designs of Hiroshige, the result of which we sec to-day in the great preponderance of his prints over those of any other individual artist, that is to say, in the number of copies still extant. It also caused other artists, who were hitherto figure-designers, to apply their brush in the same direction, or else cease work, and to this period belong the numerous prints depicting stories, folk-lore, and legend, such as the many series of this nature designed by Kuniyoshi.
Further consideration of the work of Hiroshige II in landscape will be found in a later chapter dealing with this subject.
Thanks to Mr. Happer's investigations in respect of the date-seals found on Hiroshige's prints after 1840, much confusion at one time existing between the two Hiroshiges has now been definitely cleared up, and prints formerly attributed to the pupil are now properly accorded to Hiroshige himself, though it is known he sometimes called in his pupil to assist him in completing some of his numerous series.
Owing to the difference in the signature Hiroshige appearing on the early oblong views (e.g. "Tokaido" series) as compared with that on the later vertical series (e.g. "Hundred Yedo Views"), it was at one time thought that the signature on the latter was the form in which the pupil wrote it, and consequently all vertical prints signed Hiroshige were formerly attributed to Hiroshige II. Von Seidlitz, however, points out that this difference in the form of signature is due to the change in the method of writing it, that is from the Japanese cursive to the Chinese square style, quite apart from the change naturally induced by increasing age. If the collector has opportunity of studying a number of Hiroshige's prints covering his whole career, he will notice that the change is not abrupt, as anyone comparing only early and late work, without any intermediate examples, might think, but is progressive.