Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) were regarded by the public as the great masters of ukiyo-e of their time. While Kunisada was specialized in drawing figures for prints commissioned by the kabuki theaters, Hiroshige had made himself a reputation as landscape artist with his spectacular series "The 53 Stations of the Tokaido". So why not put the strengths of these two ukiyo-e artists together into a new series? The result was the collaboration work "The 53 Stations by Two Brushes" (Sohitsu Gojusan Tsugi No Uchi).
The landscapes of the Tokaido in the upper inset were made by Hiroshige. The lower part of the print features large figures associated with each station by Kunisada I (Toyokuni III). The figures designed by Kunisada often represent kabuki actors and kabuki scenes. The subtitles referring to the figures are unfortunately only found on the title page for the series. The series The 53 Stations by Two Brushes consists of 55 prints plus one title page. It was created and published between 1854 and 1857. The publisher was Maruya Kyushiro.
For Kunisada, whose business model was largely based on the creation of kabuki actor prints, the series was a possibility to evade odd censorship laws passed by the ruling Tokugawa shogunate at a time when the authority of the rule of the Tokugawa clan was more and more questioned. The censorship laws banned among others the display of kabuki actors. Therefore ukiyo-e designers and publishers issued the popular kabuki scenes as landscape prints.
The Woodblock Print
From the series "Sohitsu Goju-san Tsugi" (Twin Brushes Fifty-three Stations), this is "No. 47. Kameyama".
Upper inset by Hiroshige: The entrance to Kameyama castle.
Lower inset by Kunisada: Actor Matsumoto Koshiro V is in the role of Akabori Mizuemon.
This woodblock is in very good condition, especially considering the age. Strong color, even toning, mild discoloration to the paper commensurate with age. Old adherents on the verso that are slightly visible from the front on the right side of the print.
About the Artists
Hiroshige: 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.
Kunisada: Kunisada Utagawa (1786 – 1865) was a prolific, successful and at his time highly appreciated leading designer of ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints. Born near Edo as the son of an affluent merchant with a ferry boat license, at the age of 15 Kunisada joined the famous art school of Utagawa Toyokuni and took the artist name Kunisada.
In 1807 Kunisada Utagawa produced his first illustrated book and in 1808 his first actor prints were published. While other artists like Kuniyoshi Utagawa or Hiroshige had to fight for recognition for years, he was successful from the beginning and would become the most commercially successful of all woodblock printmakers ever. Kunisada designed a wide spectrum of traditional ukiyo-e subjects like kabuki themes, beautiful women, historical events and quite a few shunga prints.