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Meiji-Period Recuts (Hiroshige)

 

Hiroshige HakoneEdo Hiroshige kanji Utagawa Hiroshige's early masterpiece, the series of fifty-five ôban designs titled Tôkaidô gojûsan tsugi no uchi ("Fifty-three Post Stations of the Eastern Sea Road"), was published circa 1833-34 by two firms, Takenouchi Magohachi (Hôeidô) and Tsuruya Kiemon (Tsuruki or Senkakudô). The set is often called simply the Hôeidô Tôkaidô series to distinguish it from various other sets by Hiroshige on the same theme (there are at least 36 groupings of prints on the Tôkaidô by Hiroshige numbering over 900 separate designs). The Hôeidô Tôkaidô was reissued many times in variant states and in so many thousands of impressions that today the different editions are still being sorted out and their chronology still debated.

In some designs the range of variation is considerable (Stations 1 and 6 are known in recut second editions issued only by Hôeidô, who also partly recut Station 2). It is not known why so many changes were made, but theories include the loss of some woodblocks in a fire at Senkakudô's shop in 2/1834 or the wearing out of some blocks that Hôeidô decided to recut after he acquired sole rights to the designs from Senkakudô. In other designs the differences lie mainly in the elimination of one or two color blocks or special printing effects such as gradation of color (bokashi). It has been said many times but it still bears repeating: Almost without exception early impressions of Hiroshige's prints are essential to a full appreciation of the artist's skill and vision in representing the moods and poetic effects of the Japanese landscape. Nearly all late impressions lack the nuance and expressiveness of the early editions.

To complicate matters further, there are somewhat deceptive Meiji-period copies of Hiroshige's designs. As the Meiji papers and pigments were not so very different from those used during Hiroshige's lifetime, it can be difficult to distinguish these later reproductions from the originals without sufficient expertise or experience.

To illustrate this point an original impression is shown in the image at the top right, which depicts Station 11, Hakone: Kosui no zu ("Lake at Hakone"). The view is of Lake Ashinoko ("Lake of Reeds") at Hakone Pass. The steep mountain road was near a barrier checkpoint (sekisho) where government agents would look for contraband and verify travel documents (identification papers that stated the purpose of the journey). The round hats and cargo containers of members of a daimyô's retinue on their way from Edo to Kyoto can be seen as the party moves down the formidable road. The aerial point of view and the almost surreal jagged shape of the volcanic mountains owe something to Chinese painting styles. Mt. Fuji is depicted at the middle far left, set in white reserve (unprinted paper) against a gradated pale orange horizon. Impressions are known with both blue and purple ichimoji bokashi ("straight line gradation") in the upper sky.

Hiroshige Hakone Meiji The image on the left is a Meiji-period copy of the Hakone design. Although it is superficially similar to the original in terms of its paper, overall appearance, colors, and block cutting, a close inspection will reveal that every line is different from the original. It also happens to lack the kiwame censor seal in the lower left margin, which is found on the original.

One useful way to compare impressions is to examine the inscriptions, for the calligraphic stroke is one of the most difficult design elements for the block cutter to reproduce exactly. View the Detail to compare the subtle but discernible changes to the angle, direction, length, and flourishes of the strokes. The recut keyblock for the Meiji reproduction also eliminated a number of figures at the lower middle of the design.

For a comparison of inscription details between an original impression and a late 20th-century copy of another design by Hiroshige, see Hiroshige's Nagakubo Station.

For other Hiroshige prints, see 36 Views of Fuji and Mutamagawa. ©1999-2002 by John Fiorillo

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Izzard, Sebastian: Hiroshige: An Exhibition of Selected Prints and Illustrated Books. New York: The Ukiyo-e Society of America, 1983, p. 23.Link, Howard: Hiroshige: The James A. Michener Collection. 2 vols. Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1991.
  • Narazaki, Muneshige: Hiroshige: The 53 Stations of the Tôkaidô (Masterworks of Ukiyo-e). Tokyo: Kodansha, 1969.
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