The Tōkaidō gojūsan tsugi series, also known as Kyoka Tokaido series was published between 1840 and 1842 as a follow up to the popular Tōkaidō gojūsan tsugi no uchi series. The publisher was Sanoki and, although the title is about 53 stations, the complete set consists of 56 woodblock prints. The prints in this series are chuban size, smaller than the oban size more commonly used for Japanese prints of the nineteenth century. This series is known as the Kyoka Tokaido because each sheet of the series has a kyoka, a short comic poem printed on it. You may also find the name Sanoki Tokaido, named after the original publisher.
This woodblock is #17, The Yui River, published around 1840-1842.
The Woodblock Print
The woodblock print is in fair to good condition making allowances for its age. It is backed with very thin onionskin paper and has a number of small wormholes mostly towards the edges of the print and the margins. The coloring is very strong and even.
About the 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.