THE DEVELOPMENT OF HIROSHIGE'S STYLE
Stories of Hiroshige's early inclination to art were preserved in his family. He is said to have displayed, when a mere child, quite unusual skill in that minor branch of the arts, cultivated to so high a degree among the Japanese-the making of miniature landscapes with coloured sand, small stones and similar material. And it is related that he had a keen eye for anything unusual. In the year Bunkwa 3rd (A.D. 1806) a party of Loo Choo islanders paid a visit to Yedo. Hiroshige, then only ten years old, saw them, was impressed by the unusual dress and bearing of these strangers and made sketches of them which aroused so much attention as to secure a record rare enough in the history of any of these obscure artisans. He seems to have given himself entirely to the practice of art within his limited opportunities. He developed a great admiration for the colour-prints of the first Toyokuni - then at the height of his reputation-which he saw in the print-shops.
At the age of fourteen he had lost both his father and mother; and, says Mr. Kojima, to distract his mind from his sorrow, he seems then definitely to have decided to embrace an artistic career. As already related he applied to Toyokuni for admission as a pupil, but room could not be made for him. One of the print-sellers befriended him and tried to place him with Toyohiro - who had been Toyokuni's fellow-pupil under Toyoharu, the founder of the Utagawa School. But Toyohiro also refused. Hiroshige, undaunted, made a second application, and in person. He so impressed the artist with his keenness and capability that, this time, he was successful. In Bunkwa 8 (A.D. 1811) Toyohiro took Hiroshige into his house; and, in the next year, gave him his diploma in accordance with the custom of the craft, endowing him with an artist name embodying, one syllable of his own. Mr. Kojima points out that this occurred after an unusually brief interval of pupilage - three years, at least, being the common term. He suggests, somewhat cynically, that the honour came so soon because it was worth Toyohiro's while to stand well with the hikeshi-doshin fraternity, to which Hiroshige still, nominally, belonged. It is far more likely, in the light of subsequent events, that the reward was gained by sheer merit and assiduity; for it is also recorded that Toyohiro employed Hiroshige to make sketches for him, sometimes correcting them himself for use, at others developing the idea in his own work. It is possible that some of these have been published, but without signatures. Toyohiro has never been accused of the piracy which is suggested in the case of some other Ukiyoye artists of the time.
The early association of Hiroshige with Toyohiro, instead of with Toyokuni,
was probably a most fortunate occurrence for the artist as well as for
those who love his work. It were idle to conjecture on what lines he might
have gone had he been brought to maturity under the influence of the great
theatrical print-designer, with his strong, remorseless design and brilliant
colour. Toyohiro's work is cast in a softer mould - not too vigorous to
have overwhelmed his pupil, but yet with its own quiet, harmonious individuality
that helped without hindering. Moreover, Toyohiro was a very competent
painter of flowers and birds, a branch of his own art cultivated with
delightful success by Hiroshige from a quite early period of his career.
And, short of the revelation that was to come from Hokusai and Hiroshige
himself, Toyohiro had not a little skill in landscape, of which a series
of Omi Hakkei - the
Eight Views of Lake
Biwa- maybe mentioned as especially significant in choice of subject;
as well as a set of
Views of the Tamagawa and some others.
In any case, the refusal of Toyokuni to take up the young Hiroshige probably
saved the latter from falling into the ruck of Ukiyoye figure painters-living
on a tradition already wellnigh worn threadbare.
One point more is worth mentioning. Hiroshige considered himself to belong to the Utagawa School. He did not often use this affix to his signature; but it occurs with sufficient frequency to show that he never abandoned his adherence to the group of which the two senior artists were among the leaders, and Kunisada and Kuniyoshi the chief of the next generation, his own contemporaries.
Toyohiro died on the 21st day of the 9th month, in the period Bunsei, 12th year (A.D. 1829), at the age of sixty-five - Hiroshige being then thirty-three years of age. He had been Toyohiro's pupil - or, perhaps, disciple would be a better term as applied, at all events, to the later years of the connexion - for more than twenty years; and it was suggested to him that he should take his master's name, and call himself the Second Toyohiro. This proposition was rejected by him on the ground that his work was not good enough to justify the claim; but we may suspect the excuse to have been merely a pious tribute to the memory of his master. So long as Toyohiro lived, a visible adherence to the style of that artist would have been expected from the disciple - one calls to mind the wrath of Shunsho, when Hokusai's fertile imagination caused him to break loose from the conventions thus laid upon him. And Hiroshige was, by this time, ripe for independence. His loyalty had, so far, restrained him; but, while he dutifully retained the name given him by his master, and also that off the Utagawa group, he signalized a new era by the change of a second name, Ichiyusai, which he had hitherto used, to the Ichiryusai which forms the basis of the multitudinous and often beautiful seals which decorate so many of his designs.
This name was, in a sense, an inheritance; and its adoption implied
arrival at a full degree of independence. It had been borne by Toyoharu,
the founder of the Utagawa School, and by Toyohiro, but each wrote the
intermediate character, ryu, in a different
manner. That of Toyoharu is the equivalent of
willow- a tree which
he was particularly fond of introducing in his designs; while Hiroshige's
independent) is the simplest
and most easily recognizable of all. It is thus a reasonable assumption
that most of the first Hiroshige's work with the signature Ichiryusai
belongs to the period terminating with Toyohiro's death. It certainly
included a number of tanzaku, harimaze,
pictures of women in the current Ukiyoye style and generally of no great
merit, a few historical subjects and some advertisements for tradesmen.
The colour-prints designed by Hiroshige I appear, in a somewhat general sense, to fall into three groups: the first of which may be said to comprise his early and tentative experiments in the conventional manner of his contemporaries; and to terminate, in approximate date, shortly before his first journey over the Tokaido was undertaken, in 1832. The catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition places first, in order of date, a 2-sheet print giving a scene from the play Momiji-gari, in which Taira-no-Koremochi is fighting with a goblin in a wild storm. This print has considerable vigour, but the figures are lacking in proportion. It is published by Iwatoya, and may belong to a series of which another example of a theatrical scene, Ushiwaka fighting with the highwayman Chohan, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, with the mark of the same publisher and with similar qualities and faults: a criticism which applies to No. 2 in the Memorial Catalogue, published by Daikokuya. These earlier prints have the signature in formal characters; as is the case with the series Imayo Kodakara Asobi, illustrating a mother's love for her children. This is ascribed by the editors of the catalogue to about the year 1817; and to the influence of Yeizan; but it can almost exactly be matched in style by some early prints by Yeisen.
A series of five subjects entitled Furyu Itsutsu Karigane, also placed very early in date, seems to be the first bearing the signature Ichiryusai Hiroshige; and two series, each of eight subjects, of comparison of women with scenery, come before a couple of surimono, dated 1820 and 1823 respectively. There are a few other prints of women and one or two of actors; but little has yet been recorded to fill the gap between the years just mentioned and 1828, when a singularly bad 3-sheet print was designed by Hiroshige and published by Yeijudo on the occasion of a festival at the Temple of Kwannon at Asakusa in 1827 - apparently his first effort in this dimension. In the foreground we see dumpy female figures in the manner of Yeisen, and men closely imitating that of Toyokuni I; with a complete failure in related composition. It is difficult to account for the defects of this production. No question can be raised as to its authenticity; but it is far inferior to the dated surimono and to other prints, ascribed by Japanese authority to a considerably earlier period.
In this first group should also be placed a set of three advertisement
designs for a dealer in inlaid shell-work which are quite well executed
and adequate in colour. All three are in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
A set of
Beauties of the Four Seasons and a portrait, in character,
of the actor Kikugoro, may also be referred to; and we then come, suddenly,
it seems, and almost inexplicably, to the evidences of the true greatness
of the artist - his second period, from about 1831 to 1850 - the period
of the real Hiroshige.
The note of introduction to this phase is to be found in a few
of Yedo, signed Ichiryusai Hiroshige, and probably done about 1830;
and some prints, rather in the style of Shunsen, which are otherwise
remarkable only in that they seem to be the first bearing the signature
Ichiryusai (Memorial Catalogue, 24, 25). But
we then have the superb kakemono-ye; untitled,
but known as the
Kiso Snow Gorge, or
in Snow. In this one sees, perhaps more clearly than in any other
work of the artist, the influence of the old Chinese ideal which was surely
one of the factors in the formation of Hiroshige's style; and inspired,
it is suggested, by the paintings of the greatest of the Japanese painters
of the aristocratic school who practised it, Sesshiu. Paintings by old
masters - both Chinese and Japanese - had already been popularized in
Japan by the books of wood-cut reproductions (or, rather, interpretations),
cheap, but beautifully done, which began to appear in the eighteenth century
and were much used by artisans of every class. However this may be, the
Snow Gorge is one of the great landscapes of the nineteenth
century. To the simple line and wash of the master with whom we have ventured
to make a comparison, Hiroshige's technical skill, and the process at
his command, enabled him to add a wonderful suggestion of colour and atmosphere
- to reinforce the cold philosophy and abstract idealism of the source
of his inspiration with an illuminating and convincing touch of Nature
- and yet without any banal descent to the petty details of so-called
realism. Whether, at this time, he had actually visited the scene we do
not know. It is more than likely.
Snow Gorge, in essential spirit, we would class
two sets of prints which may be a little later in date, but, in one case,
illustrating a theme of some significance - a set of Shokoku
Views of the Provinces, three subjects on each
sheet, published by Kinkodo, and another series, Wakan
Virile Poems of Japan and China, issued
by Jokin, and including another version of the
as the first-named does of the equally famous Saruhashi or
Monkey-Bridge, of which Tsutaya published the kakemono-ye generally
accepted as a masterpiece, in rank equal to the great picture
of the Fuji River rapids. The author, while cordially acknowledging a
great admiration for the
Bridge, cannot quite go so far. The
mass of rock on the left seems to have tired the artist; and his original
sketch of the subject, which we reproduce, is much more convincing and
satisfying as it stands. This print can be given a definite date, for
the Koshu Diary, in which he records what, from his language, must have
been his first visit, is of a journey made in 1841. Perhaps popularity
was already beginning to tell.
We have, however, been tempted a little too far in our summary; for,
before the execution of the First Tokaido, and by way, so to speak, of
interlude, the artist made a considerable number of prints of a special
class - the tanzaku or poem-cards - long,
narrow compositions, each with a spray of flowers and a bird, butterflies
or something of the sort; without, as a rule, background or suggestion
of landscape - each having an ancient poem so written and incorporated
in the composition as to form a charming element of the design. Beautiful
as they are, the immediate purpose they were intended to fulfil is not
clear unless it was to accompany gifts - the ceremonial giving of which
is one of the chief ingredients of Japanese etiquette. To the author,
it seems that in this exercise, Hiroshige perfected his style to a not
inconsiderable extent. The fine treatment of natural form, the constant
searching after variety both of detail and of arrangement, must have been
all to the good. With these in his mind, he applied the form to landscape
in the brilliant
Yedo Views of the Four Seasons, published
by Kawasho, who also was responsible for many of the Kwa-cho
(Bird and Flower) tanzaku - and this little
series is one that no collector would wish to be without.
Two other tanzaku of larger format must be mentioned,
for they also are of the most tender beauty. Hiroshige
apparently contemplated a series of
Twenty-eight Moonlight Views.
What he might and could have done with so inviting a subject can hardly
be imagined. If the quality of the only two known, the
Moon behind Maple Leaves, may be taken as a standard,
this series would have ranked almost as his finest work in pure landscape.
The Chinese influence is still perceptible, but subordinated to the personal
qualities of the artist; and, in the former, the author dares to assert
that Hiroshige has endowed his admirers with a treasure greater, more
artistic, more essentially poetic altogether, than the
which - perhaps on account, in some degree, of its dimensions - has obscured
its fame. And the composition is perfect - as Mr. Noguchi finely says:
What a pictorial contrast in these walled crags on either side,
with the ghostly pilgrim of Heaven between. And, again, how the poem inscribed
on the top keeps a balance with Hiroshige's signature below on the left.
This lovely rhythmic performance in art of balance is so old in the pictorial
kingdom of the East: our Japanese artists, indeed all of them, have the
secret of it in their blood hereditarily. The
is but a grandiose version of the
Bow Moon. The moon has become
full, indeed, but the virgin beauty of the earlier vision remains immaculate
and unassailable in our memories.
Then came the revelation of the great Tokaido. Mr. Uchida no doubt had
this series immediately in his mind when he said that
was the only Japanese painter who proved himself an absolutely faithful
interpreter of the native scenery. That is entirely true - perhaps
more true for us even than for the Japanese. For Hiroshige, in these designs,
does verily interpret Nature, but in terms, not of the old Chinese philosophy,
but of common humanity. He gives us what any man may see, when the artist
has once opened his eyes. There are those who despise, or affect to despise,
a plain statement in pictorial art; who twist and entangle and obscure
their artistic message with the convolutions of their own warped
The Tokaido prints, and those to be grouped therewith, have nothing of
this decadence. They tell their tale in the language of the etched landscapes
of Rembrandt, of the paintings of Hobbema, of Constable.
Hiroshige has now learned his lesson. The dominant influence is, henceforth, that derived from his own observation, with just a leaning towards his far-off Chinese ancestry in art. All artists work in conventions, the alphabets of their language; but he, still cherishing a few of the old, brought them into combination with new elements. For the idealized landscape of his predecessors, he gives us the real variety of his own country; for the sage of the Chinese seated in contemplation, we have the wayfarers and denizens of the great roads. Instead of a remote and impenetrable suggestion of reverence and awe, there is the cheery hint of good-fellowship - you would not hesitate to pass the time of day with the people in Hiroshige's pictures. He draws temples; but they are the temples to which he and his fellows went happily as to a club or festival: and, breaking away from Far Eastern tradition to an extent, to us inconceivable, he depicts the inns and their staffs and clients. These are the marks by which Hiroshige is to be separated out from other Japanese artists. One great, perhaps greater, man, Hokusai, had, in his own highly individualistic manner, done something of the sort; but he gives us Hokusai always, and Hokusai only. Yeisen may, as Hiroshige's partner in one enterprise, claim some small share in the achievement. But in respect of the qualities we have tried to enumerate, Hiroshige is in a class by himself. Carlyle would probably have called him a prophet!
It is this gift that he reveals in the First Tokaido, the Kisokaido,
the earlier Yedo Views and the like. The three great Hakkei are on a somewhat different plane of pure landscape; but, apart from
these and the few prints to be classed with them, the series we have just
named constitute the body of work by which Hiroshige makes his mark. The
period during which this high standard was maintained covers roughly about
twenty years. Almost all the landscapes issued within it, other than tanzaku,
are horizontal; though, for its excellence, we would include in this group
the delightful little half-plate
Thirty-six Views of Fuji,
published by Sanoki in 1852. But this date, in other respects, marks the
period, if not of his own decline, most certainly of a considerable falling
off in the quality of the majority of the publications of his remaining
years, the causes of which are discussed elsewhere in this volume.
Two salient characteristics of his last period are to be noted - a wide adoption of the vertical form of composition and changes in the method of treating the figure. To these must be added a decided inferiority of colour - which is now more opaque, and less harmonious generally; the good blue remains, but greens and reds and yellows have sadly deteriorated, while the delicate half-tones of earlier work are rarely to be seen. The changes in the figure are in two curiously opposed directions. Either he has moved towards the old Ukiyoye convention in which the figure is the leading constituent of the design; or it becomes subordinated almost out of sight, losing every bit of human interest except as suggesting the bare existence of life in the scene. In the first class, it is often gracefully drawn and well placed in its way; a reversion, apparently, to memories of his early training under Toyohiro. One does not suggest that these things are, by any means, to be found in all the prints of the period. There are many fine compositions, bearing indisputable dates, to be placed therein. But the general level is down; and a change of style is so marked and occurs so frequently as to give at least prima facie grounds for the theory that here was engaged another man. That question is considered in Chapter III; our business in this place is only to note the change.
A word, in conclusion, may be spared to the humorous subjects and caricatures.
Hiroshige had a keen sense of humour, and his prints of this class are
well worthy of an attention they have not yet received. He was addicted
to the making of little comic poems on all sorts of occasions, in which
the inveterate habit of punning practised by the Japanese in this branch
of their literature is a factor, putting them, as a rule, almost entirely
beyond our comprehension. Of broad farce, together with more than respectable
landscape, the unfinished illustrations to the Yajikita story, the
Adventures of Two Travellers on the Tokaido, are an excellent example.
Only seven of them are known. He had quite a reputation as a writer of
comic poems and used the nom-de-plume of
Utashige. His book illustration calls for careful study. Most of
the volumes are dated, and one can therefore follow his style to some
extent therein from his first work of this kind, issued about 1816 onwards.
For his last period the Yedo Miyage is particularly
valuable, inasmuch as it ranges from 1850 to its completion by his pupils
There is no definite trace of European influence in Hiroshige's work. His cloud-form is derived from Nature and is free, on the one hand, from the old conventions, used by some of his fellows to eke out their design; and, on the other, from the curly cumuli of Hokkei and other pupils of Hokusai.
Generally speaking, cloud drawing was originally resorted to exclusively for the purpose of making possible the omission of some parts of the scene depicted. The device became conventionalized and ultimately even abused, taking the form of parallel bars with rounded ends placed arbitrarily athwart the design. Hiroshige used the morning and evening mists of his native land to assist in producing effects of distance and aerial perspective; but he never carried this device so far as to obstruct or diminish his representation of the sentiment, if not altogether of the actual facts of Nature. With him, it was an element in that fine simplification of a subject which is one of his greatest artistic qualities. The rainbow occurs in two or three prints, and he experimented with reflections and shadows. The best-known example of the latter is reproduced herein (Plate facing p. 68). These things may be said to have been suggested by Western practice, but are surely such as might well have been reached by independent observation.
A well-known writer on the subject suggests that this influence became manifest in the later work of Hiroshige in the form of attempts at perspective, and implies that it was then something of a novelty. As a matter of fact, the elements of perspective were known to the Ukiyoye Masters; or, at all events, had been promulgated so conspicuously as to be easily available for their use, nearly a century earlier, by the efforts of that interesting character, Shiba Kokan, the self-confessed forger of Harunobu's prints, and the only member of his school, of importance, to use copper-plate engraving. He acquired these accomplishments from the Dutch - other than the habit of forgery, of which those enterprising merchants are not accused. Prints made in perspective were a recognized, though not popular, class, and were known as Ukiye - floating pictures. One does not remember any notable specimens from the brush of Toyohiro; but Toyoharu, the leader of the Utagawa group to which Hiroshige was proud to claim adherence, was responsible for several which have perspective sufficiently accurate for all the ordinary purposes of a painter; and Hiroshige, without quite formally tying himself to its rules, certainly shows, in quite early work, that he was well able to avail himself of this device at need. His management of aerial perspective and of distance is masterly; and the way in which he diminishes his roads as they go back from a foreground, proves his ability in this respect.
On the general question of his style it is of interest to note that a distinguished Japanese art critic, Mr. Sawamura Sentaro, claims Hiroshige as one of the most distinguished of the followers of Buson, a famous poet and painter of the eighteenth century. The grounds of this claim are of great interest, and, if rightly interpreted, should at least assist us in our endeavour to arrive at a full understanding of the work of the great designer of landscape colour-prints. Yosa Buson was born at Kema, in the Province of Settsu, in 1716, but was taken, when still a child, to Yosa in Tango, where he was brought up, and from which he adopted one of his pen-names; his family name being Taniguchi. He afterwards lived at Yedo, where he studied poetry under Hayano Hajin; but most of his life was passed at Kyoto, where he died on the 25th day the 12th month, A.D. 1783, in his sixty-eighth year. Buson made a great reputation as a writer of Haiku poems - exquisite little 3-line verses of seventeen syllables in all. In this respect, moreover, he broke away from the formalism that, in his time, fettered the practitioners of this particular school of poetry. He not only varied the metrical arrangement of syllables, so as, from the Japanese point of view, to secure a more forcible and vigorous effect; but especially he went to Nature for his subjects and also invested them with human interest. It is not easy for us to realize even a fragment of the infinite implications of the little verses in which the cultured Japanese take delight. No one but an Oriental can hope to go far on the path of contemplative thought inspired by such a hint as in a typical example which we quote in Mr. Sentaro's translation
Yon bunch of tender leaves
Bright in the window's light.
He once observed, says an authority, that all he had in this world was
the art of painting and poetry, for he had no family, no relatives, no
friends, no estate - a saying which may give a slight clue to the inwardness
of the poem just quoted. In his painting
he laid stress more on
indication than on actual representation. Yet many of his earlier
pictures seem to have been over-elaborate and confused; and it was only
in his last few years that he reached, in the eyes of critics of his own
country, his greatest merit. Mr. Sentaro says
But Buson drew inspiration
directly from Nature and then idealized what he had thus observed. Hence
his paintings are always fresh and original. He did not, however, literally
follow Nature; in fact he rose above Nature. And this is why his pictures
are so inconceivably animated, so strikingly bold and unaffected. In trying
to arouse the imagination of the beholder, he always exerted an influence
over him such as is commonly exerted only by realism.... In other words,
as he in the role of an objective poet selected from Nature the elements
essential to exciting the interest of the reader, so he did the same thing
in his pictorial art. (1) One remembers Whistler!
The influence exerted on the art of Hiroshige (who, let us not forget,
was also a poet of sorts) by that of Buson was philosophical rather than
technical - a matter of principles and inspiration rather than of practice.
Buson never broke entirely away from the fetters of Chinese classicism,
in his technique. His composition never attains the simplicity and concentration
of that of Hiroshige. His
landscapes always remind us of scenery
in China. Whereas Hiroshige, with a technique ruled and, from our
point of view, purified by the limitations of the process for which he
worked, derived his objective inspiration from the scenes of his own country
as observed by himself - though the principles that ruled his choice of
subject and the idealism that underlay them were doubtless on the same
lines as those of his master. Buson was a leader of reform both in his
poetry and his painting. When Hiroshige abandoned the traditions of the
Ukiyoye painters of women and actors in favour of landscape, he laid the
foundations of a school of art whose teaching has already gone far beyond
the limits or the vision of the Japanese of his day.