This seems to be an adaptation of a design from Hiroshige’s 1858 vertical ōban Fuji sanjūrokkei 富士三十六景 (“Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji“). This design is Shinano Shiojiri tōge 信濃塩尻峠 (“Shiojiri Pass in Shinano Province”), but reimagined as a night scene. You can view the original version here.
A strangely haunting woodblock, we’re unfortunately unable to discover who the author or publisher of this print. Based on the paper and printing, we’re estimating that it was published sometime between 1910 and 1930s.
The Woodblock Print
This chuban-sized woodblock is in very good condition; no fading or discoloration lines, there is only one small spot of foxing in an otherwise excellent piece. Relatively clean verso, a few spots of tipping residue in the top corners.
About the (original) Artist
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.