The Tama River ran along the western border of Edo, while the Sumida River flowed through the east side of the city. The Tama tended to evoke poetic associations, such as with the desolate Musashino moor and the autumnal moon. Fishermen on the shore as well as in boats are most likely fishing for river sweetfish (ayu), a small fish similar to smelt, fishing under the autumn moon and a willow tree.
Sweetfish spawn in the autumn so taste best as they fatten up during the hot summer months. The strongest tasting, almost pungent fish are the wakaayu, young ayu taken from start of May to the beginning of the summer. The komochiayu of the autumn, containing roe, are a local delicacy. Lake Biwa in Shiga prefecture and the Nakagawa River that flows through Tochigi and Ibaragi prefectures are renowned for the quality of their ayu.
The Woodblock Print
With the exception of minor tipping on the verso in the top corners, this print is in very fine condition. No discolorations, intact margins, and strong color with bleed-through to the reverse. “Made in Japan” stamped on the reverse of the print. Lovely usage of bokashi shading with blue, coupled with notes of yellow in highlighted elements and a blue-green treatment for the foreground grassy knoll.
Born in Edo as Tokutaro Ando, Hiroshige grew up in a minor samurai family. His father belonged to the firefighting force assigned to Edo Castle. It is here that Hiroshige was given his first exposure to art: legend has it that a fellow fireman tutored him in the Kano school of painting, though Hiroshige’s first official teacher was Rinsai. Though Hiroshige tried to join Utagawa Toyokuni’s studio, he was turned away. In 1811, young Hiroshige entered an apprenticeship with the celebrated Utagawa Toyohiro. After only a year, he was bestowed with the artist name Hiroshige. He soon gave up his role in the fire department to focus entirely on painting and print design. During this time he studied painting, intrigued by the Shijo school. Hiroshige’s artistic genius went largely unnoticed until 1832.
In Hiroshige’s groundbreaking series of woodblock prints, The 53 Stations of the Tokaido (1832-1833), Hiroshige captured the journey along the Tokaido road, the highway connecting Edo to Kyoto, the imperial capital. With the Tokugawa Shogunate relaxing centuries of age-old restrictions on travel, urban populations embraced travel art and Hiroshige became one of the most prominent and successful ukiyo-e artists. He also produced kacho-e (bird-and-flower pictures) to enormous success. In 1858, at the age of 61, he passed away as a result of the Edo cholera epidemic.
Hiroshige’s prints continue to convey the beauty of Japan and provide insight into the everyday life of its citizens. The appeal of his tender, lyrical landscapes was not restricted to the Japanese audience. Hiroshige’s work had a profound influence on the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists of Europe: Toulouse-Lautrec was fascinated with Hiroshige’s daring diagonal compositions and inventive use of perspective, Van Gogh literally copied two prints from Hiroshige’s famed series, 100 Famous Views of Edo in oil paint.