When I first started collecting Japanese woodblocks, Hasegawa's Night Scenes were the ones that grabbed my attention with their dark, quiet beauty. But this captivating piece, an understated part of the series, is not just beautiful, but part of a chain of East-West-East artistic influence that increases its value to the History of Art.
Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge c.1872-5 James Abbott McNeill Whistler
This woodblock was created by Eijiro Kobayashi (who contributed two other pieces to the series), but in the official literature of the publisher, was attributed to "Whistler". Who is "Whistler"? Whistler in this case is James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), the American painter living in the United Kingdom. In the early 1870s Whistler painted his famous "Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge". During this time Japanese art was popular in the salons. Japonisme, a French term that refers to the popularity and influence of Japanese art and design in western Europe in the nineteenth century following the forced reopening of trade of Japan in 1858, caught like wildfire in the imagination of the literati and greater cultured society. While obviously an original painting based on a very real scene (it was used as evidence in a trial), we can't ignore that Whistler didn't have his influences. Many believe that Whistler found inspiration or influence in compositions by Hiroshige such as "Moonlight at Ryogoko" or in my opinion, "Bamboo Yards and Kyobashi Bridge".
Hiroshige's "Bamboo Yards and Kyobashi Bridge" Series: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo Date: 1857
Hiroshige's work was quite popular in those Western salons, where his work, and that of Hokusai and other ukiyo-e masters, were highly sought out and collected. It is this East - West - East influence trading, crisscrossing the globe, that makes this piece by Eijiro so fascinating to me. That the artist and publisher didn't hide it (they literally attributed the print to Whistler in the catalogs), it at the same time became a cornerstone in one of the early influential series that launched the Shin Hanga art movement within Japan.
The Woodblock Print
Probably one of the most difficult of Hawegawa's Night Scenes to find, especially in good condition. This piece is even more rare: it is the Koban size as opposed to the more common Chuban. The print is without margins (to be expected). Rich color, good detail in the orange lights and reflections. No visible creases, age spots, or discoloration evident.
About the Artist
Eijiro Kobayashi was born in 1870 (died in 1946). Little is known about the life of Eijiro Kobayashi beyond his contributions to Hasegawa's Night Scenes by Watanabe. He is known for woodblock prints of romantic night and evening scenes in shin hanga style of which there are only three different designs attributed to him, the fourth being attributed to "Whistler". The prints were published by Hasegawa, and later by Nishinomiya, and three showing scenes from the Sumida river and one design showing a pagoda.