Japanese woodblock printing, particularly the ukiyo-e prints of the late 19th century, will be familiar to many, and few would not recognise Hokusai’s The Great Wave at Kanagawa, from his series ‘Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji’. The other great artist of the period is Hiroshige, variously known as Utagawa Hiroshige or Ando Hiroshige. In addition to the confusion over personal names, Hiroshige’s apprentice took the name after his master’s death. He’s usually known in the West as Hroshige II. A third apprentice is sometimes known as Hiroshige III, just to complicate matters. Neither of these apprentices were anything like as accomplished as their former master. Hiroshige II married his master’s daughter, but she divorced him after a short marriage. Hiroshige II did not long survive his master’s death.
Hiroshige I became Japan’s greatest landscape painter, especially of the published prints for which he’s best known. He may have produced as many as 5,000 prints, in several series including 100 Famous Views of Edo, The 69 Stations of the Kisokaido, and many others.
When I was putting my collection Sushi & Chips together, Ian King said that he had a print which would make a good cover, and indeed it was and is.
Naturally, I wanted to find out about the original print, so I consulted several reference books in Edinburgh’s Art Library, and I found a book which contained the signatures of all three Hiroshige. It confirmed this print is by Hiroshige II, the less-favoured artist, and its printing is a bit crude, but I love it for its humour, and for its glimpse of Japanese life. The pedlar’s jacket could almost be tartan. A stamp on the print identifies it as being from a series 36 Famous Views of Kyoto, which is proving very hard to track down, even with the asssistance of the Tokyo Museum’s digital archive.
I’ve recently acquired a Taschen edition of H. I’s 100 views of Edo, and it’s very beautiful indeed. Edo was the old name for Tokyo. The Kisokaido series contains prints by Eisen, as well as H.I, and it’s fascinating. I feel I’m just at the start of a much deeper study of the art form and its practitioners.
Note added later. The print is now conclusively identified as ‘Plum Trees at Kameido’ by Hiroshige II, printed in editions between 1859 and 1862. A copy is in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.