THE COLOUR-PRINTS OF HIROSHIGE - EDWARD F. STRANGE
THE OTHER PRINCIPAL SERIES
The Japanese, following Chinese custom and tradition, have an affection for arranging things in definite categories of fixed numbers. There are many instances of this practice in the work of Hiroshige, other than the sets of prints illustrating the stations on the great roads, the number of which naturally regulated that of the subjects in each case. A conspicuous example of the habit is found in the several series of landscapes, each comprising eight views, and always associated in theme with eight ancient Chinese poems dealing respectively with Evening Snow, the Full Moon in Autumn Twilight, Evening Rain, Temple Bells Ringing at Close of Day, Boats Returning to Harbour, Geese Flying Home, Sunset, and Clearing Skies at Evening after Storm. These eight subjects in themselves might well bring an artist to his best mood, for they represent perhaps the most beautiful phases of Nature - at all events to a class of people whose daily task was onerous enough to inspire an appreciation of the hour of rest.
In view of the Chinese source from which the Japanese directly derived the idea, one might well have expected a formal treatment, but Hiroshige went far beyond those limits. He designed numerous sets of prints embodying the well-known and popular ideas, but placed them in ever-varying setting of different scenes - always instinct with poetic feeling of the highest order. Indeed his three great series of Hakkei - those dealing with the scenery of Lake Biwa, (Omi Hakkei), the neighbourhood of Yedo (Yedo Kinko Hakkei) and Kanazawa (Kanazawa Hakkei) - must be placed in the first selection of his work. These were published by Hoyeido and Yeisendo, by Kikakudo and by Koshihei respectively. The Memorial Catalogue gives an interesting note on the Yedo series; to the effect that a contemporary poet, Taihado, employed Hiroshige to depict a set of scenes chosen by him and some fellow-poets, in order to record their poems; and some of the prints have, outside the border, the mark Taihado-Kaihan (Prints inaugurated by Taihado). Each has a poem in three or four verses; and it is suggested that they were done for circulation among Taihado's coterie of poets - one of those little poetry clubs which form so pleasing a feature in the life of the ordinary folk of the period. The result was, however, so popular that the publisher obtained Taihado's permission to issue them in the ordinary way to the public, but with only one verse on each. The latter is the edition generally met with, and, even so, is very rare. Examples of the first edition are treasures to be cherished when met with; none could be included even in the Memorial Exhibition.
These three series represent the high-water mark of Hiroshige's achievement. They are executed with rare delicacy of design and restrained, but exquisite colour. It were hard to choose among so great a wealth of riches: but, of the Biwa series, the cold purity of the moonlight scene at Ishiyama; the infinite charm and inimitable drawing of the Tama river version of the same theme in the Yedo set; and the simplicity and humanity of the Shomyoji "Bells" at Kanazawa, will more than satisfy the most exacting critics. In date of production, they are probably to be placed after the first Tokaido, and not later than the beginning of the Kisokaido sets. Before leaving this group, attention may be drawn to the fan design reproduced in the plate facing p.92 and described elsewhere (p.91); for it comes very nearly to the style of the best of the three great Hakkei and may even represent the beginning of it.
Probably the earliest set of Omi Hakkei is a small vertical set signed Ichiyusai Hiroshige (Happer Sale, 8). These have only historical interest; but in a little quarter-plate set of the same subject, published by Senichi (Memorial Cat. 22) the artist already shows the beginning of his power. He published several other small sized series and at least one full-sized vertical set; while we have noted about the same number of Yedo (or Toto - the Eastern capital) Hakkei and two quarter-plate Kanazawa views.
Of views of Yedo, other than the conventional eight, the number is very large. Mr. Happer has identified more than fifty different series, and a full catalogue of them would alone need a considerable volume. Yedo was Hiroshige's native town, and not only the centre of his own activities, but that of the colour-print industry generally. Probably this art of the artisan did not find the aristocratic atmosphere of Kyoto favourable to its growth; for, although a few series of Kyoto views and other local subjects exist, the number is altogether insignificant in comparison with those relating definitely to Yedo, which was, moreover, the seat of most of the publishers. Osaka had, in the first half of the nineteenth century, its own group of designers of colour-prints, but Yedo's supremacy in this respect cannot be challenged. This was natural enough. It was the chief town of Japan for all practical purposes; the seat of the effective government; the centre of the national life. To Yedo came, every year, daimyo from every part of the country, with their huge retinues of retainers and hangers-on; and the servants and coolies, as well as the folk of the city, constituted the main support of the colour-print industry. A set of ten, published by Kawaguchi Shozo (Kawasho), with decorative borders, and signed Ichiyusai Hiroshige, is considered to be the artist's first undoubted attempts at landscape, pure and simple. They are well drawn and composed, and have a characteristic treatment of clouds in the sky which appears again and again in later prints, and marks his early independence of the conventional bars used by some of his contemporaries and predecessors who had attempted landscape. About this time (1830) he also issued a set of eight and another of twelve views of the capital, four on a sheet (yotsugiri).
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 realized by his fellow countrymen.
To attempt even a brief summary of the many series of Yedo prints is impossible in the space available. We must be content with a mere reference to the series of "Famous Restaurants of Yedo" to the number of thirty and published by Fujihiko; and pass on to the well-known "Hundred Views," which has something of the character of a memorial to the artist. This unequal but, in mass, remarkable production was issued by the publisher Uwoyei Yeikichiji. It comprises 118 views with the signature Hiroshige; a second version of the "Akasaka, Kiribatake in Rain," signed Ni sei (second) Hiroshige and an Index of Subjects (mokuroku), making 120 sheets in all. The prints are vertical and of full size; arranged in four groups relating to the Four Seasons of the Year, and dated in every case. Mr. Happer's note gives the dates of 116, as follows: 1856, 36 plates; 1857, 70 plates; 1858, 10 plates. These dates would be those on which the licence of the censor was given approving the design, which was necessary before the blocks could be made. The last of them (excluding the print by Hiroshige II) is within a month of the death of Hiroshige; so that it is reasonable to assume that the whole of the work, so far as the artist was concerned, was finished before that event. The exception just mentioned is dated 6th month of 1859. Mr. Happer suggests that it was made to fill a deficiency caused by an accident to or loss of the original. It is, however, curious that in this case the later edition did not more closely follow the first design (as in the Tokaido series), which is, we think, no more rare than its fellows. Bound sets often have both prints.
The publisher of the "Hundred Views" also produced the memorial portrait of Hiroshige which appears as the frontispiece to this volume. In the text accompanying this print he only refers specifically to the "Hundred Views" and to a book (in 14 volumes) of comic poems relating to Yedo, of which Hiroshige illustrated thirteen, and Hiroshige II the last. Monsieur C. Vignier finds, in the fact that there is no mention of Hiroshige's earlier and better work in this note, "quelque chose d'étrange et d'absurde." But surely one need not go beyond the commercial point of view for the explanation. The portrait was not a memorial formally devised by a committee of the artist's admirers; and the publisher, making capital out of the death of one of his most successful clients, could hardly be expected to advertise the productions of his rivals in trade. He went further, and published a view of his shop (by Kunisada II) showing the "Hundred Views" on sale.
As stated previously, only one of the "Hundred Views" - and that an additional plate-belongs, by signature, to Hiroshige II. But modern Japanese criticism is inclined to attribute two or three more definitely to the pupil, viz: "Ichigaya, the Hachiman Shrine" (21), the "Bikuni Bridge" (115), and perhaps another - possibly on account of some accident. The signatures cannot be relied on to prove anything unless it be that the second man had the task of signing a considerable number - whoever made the designs. His authentic signature on the "Kiribatake" is repeated again and again on other subjects - with the exception, of course, of the characters meaning "second." Japanese critics are agreed that he copied his master's signature as well as, to the best of his ability, his style. We give elsewhere facsimile reproductions of the "Kiribatake" signature, and of another print in the series so closely resembling it (and not the only one) as to inspire confidence in anyone not allowing for the Japanese talent for minutely exact reproduction. And it is doubtful if Hiroshige I was so well educated (in literary accomplishment) that his signature can be accepted as an entirely trustworthy guide. Throughout the great range of his work, and over and over again, within particular series, one may find greater variation than appears in the "Hundred Views."
One set of views of Kyoto calls for notice: a lateral series entitled "Kyoto Meisho" and published by Kawaguchi Shozo, prints bearing one or other of the marks used by this firm - Yeisendo or Kawasho. These are of about the period of the great "Omi Hakkei," and include some well-known and beautiful examples of the artist's best period, representing popular resorts of the capital in the Four Seasons of the Year. The "Gion Temple in Snow" and the "Boat on the Yodo River" may be particularly mentioned. In the latter, Hiroshige, perhaps more than in any other of his designs, challenges Hokusai on the latter's own ground.
Going farther afield than the great roads or the two capitals, Hiroshige produced several series of varying importance dealing with scenes in the Provinces. First of these in merit is the "Honcho Meisho," or "Famous Scenes of the Main Island" (publisher, Fujihiko), a lateral series of not fewer than fifteen sheets, of which the "Nunobiki Waterfall" is a strikingly powerful and original composition, comparing most favourably with the treatment of the same subject by other artists. In his last period came the "Views of More than Sixty Provinces," which have been dated from 1853 to 1865; though, in the opinion of the writer, 1856 is the latest date mark, and that read as 1865 should be the year of the earlier cycle, 1853. There is little doubt that Hiroshige II must be given a large share in this production. One has only to consider the "Monkey-Bridge" (Saruhashi) in this series, side by side with the famous kakemono -ye and the first sketch reproduced in this volume, to see how far it is from the originals. Yet there are designs by no means contemptible - only, as in the case of the "Hundred Views of Yedo," the execution leaves much to be desired.
One more group of landscapes must not be forgotten, those inspired by the scenery and legends of the Six Tama Rivers (Tamagawa). The traditional number of "Views" in this case was always six, representing that number of rivers of the same name in different provinces of Japan, each of which is associated with an ancient poem, symbolized in the treatment of the subject. Hiroshige was evidently attracted by this theme - which, indeed, supplied his master, Toyohiro, with material for one of his most successful efforts - and often drew it. The lateral set (Shokoku Mu-Tamagawa) published by Tsutaya calls for high praise, and the element of landscape counts for more in these fine compositions than in the series of narrow upright panels (chutanzaku) for which one must confess a greater admiration. Hiroshige was a great master of the decorative possibilities of this form of panel. The "Koka Mu-Tamagawa" was published by Kawasho, who also handled so many of the "Bird and Flower" prints and the exquisite "Yedo in the Four Seasons," and who may have, perhaps, some credit for having inspired this distinctive and most delightful phase of the artist's work.
In the latter series the figure plays an important part, though nothing could be better than the restrained, yet completely satisfying suggestion of landscape in which it is placed. This will be realized by a study of the original drawings for similar subjects which we have been able to reproduce; the few but telling lines and the massing of the blacks enable one to appreciate the skill of the draughtsman almost better than with the distraction of colour. Hiroshige made other notable sets of like character, in which graceful if not powerful figures are used in combination with his inimitable landscape. Such, for instance, are the "Kokon Joruri Dzukushi" - "Illustrations of Old and New Ballad Dramas" (Sanoki, publisher), of which fourteen or fifteen have been identified ; the series of sixteen scenes from the great drama "Chushingura" - that "Story of the Forty-seven Ronin" immortalized, in Japan, in more than fifty separate plays, and known, surely, to most of those who can read the English language, in the finely told tale, by the late A. B. Mitford (Lord Redesdale), in "Tales of Old Japan." The "Ronin Crossing the Bridge" in snow is the print in this series that at once leaps to the memory. Hiroshige may not have possessed the power to depict dramatic action that was wielded by Kuniyoshi and a few others; but when he, as in this print, calls Nature to his aid, he reigns supreme. Nothing could be more impressive than the tramp of the devoted band of followers of a lost lord, bound by their oath of vengeance, over the old bridge, snow-covered and in the silent night.
The tale of the Vengeance of the Soga Brothers furnished Hiroshige with a similar subject (30 sheets) which he also dealt with in the "Chuko Adanchi dzuye" - "Stories of Revenge inspired by Loyalty to Parents and Lords." Many of the 3-sheet prints produced during his latter years are of this kind-some entirely the work of, may we say, the Hiroshige atelier, others with figures that do not greatly add to their beauty, by Kunisada. A curious set, the main appeal of which will be to the collector rather than to the artist, is entitled "Fuku-toku Kane-no Naruki" ("The Lucky Money-tree that produces Wealth"). At the top of each print is a representation of the "money-tree" - the branches of which are heavily laden with gold coins; and the subjects represented are industrious women engaged in various occupations (publisher, Aritaya). We have noted thirteen of this set; probably there are more. One of the industrious ladies is painting her face.
One reverts to pure landscape in referring to the "Views of Mount Fuji." Hiroshige drew Fuji from every possible point of view, and the Peerless Mountain occurs over and over again in his work; but of the Thirty-six traditional views he seems only to have done two series. The first is a charming set of lateral half-plate views, published by Sanoki in 1852, and giving us perhaps almost the last of the best period of his personal work. The other, a fullsized upright series, with title-page and list of contents, was not issued by Tsutaya until after his death - the date of publication being 6th month, Year of the Sheep (A.D. 1859), while that of the plates is 4th month of the preceding year, 1858. The preface has the inscription Shodai Ryusai Hiroshige O-i (relic of the old man, Hiroshige Ryusai), and states that the plates were received "last Spring" (1858) and carefully published as "an offering of sincere respect to my deceased friend." We have here, therefore, another memorial publication, which, indeed, comes very closely in qualities of design and of execution to the "Hundred Views of Yedo" previously considered. It cannot be compared with Hokusai's masterpiece, published twenty-five years earlier; yet it has many masterly designs. It must be placed in the group already defined, in which we see the predominant influence of the pupil who must have collaborated in the production.
Before leaving the series of landscape, notice must be given to a set of late 3-sheet prints which have achieved a considerable reputation - one must think, to some extent on account of their size rather than their artistic value. They form a triad of the favourite theme, "Snow, Moon and Flowers" and comprise, the "Rapids at Naruto," "The Eight Kanazawa Scenes in Moonlight" and the "Kiso Mountains in Snow"; and were published by Tsutaya in 1857. The second is the best - a really good composition with strength and coherence throughout the design. The "Naruto" is weak, and the subject does not lend itself to the chosen dimensions. We have a much earlier drawing by Hiroshige, in one of the sketchbooks, which is masterly ; and the fan-print is, in the writer's opinion, far superior to the larger productions. In the latter, one is inclined to recognize, very clearly, the effort and failure of the pupil to rise to the theme propounded by his master, who, beyond setting it, probably took no further share in the execution. The "Kiso in Snow" has much the same defects, but is, in virtue of its mass and colour, more impressive. It is a long way from, and after, its fine prototype. There are, by the way, dangerous copies of each of these prints in existence, to be known by differences in the boat in the one case, and, in the latter, by a variation in the outline of the mountains. In his sale catalogue, Mr. Happer interpreted the seal-date as 1845; but we have preferred to follow the editors of the Memorial Catalogue,* who chose, as we think, rightly, the next occurrence of the Snake Year in the cycle, namely 1857.
Two sets of "Uwo Dzukushi," Grand Series of Fishes, were issued, each of ten plates. The earlier series was published by Yeijudo about the same time as the First Tokaido appeared; the second, by Yeijudo and Yamasho about the year 1840. These prints are somewhat rare and have had a vogue out of all proportion to their merits, especially in France. Copies of these, also, must be guarded against.
* On the sixtieth anniversary of Hiroshige's death (September 6, 1917), a great memorial exhibition of his work was held at Tokyo. The catalogue, extant only in a very limited edition, contains the best list of the artist's work yet published, and is the chief authority for the above summary.