Okabe: View of Mt. Utsu (Okabe, Utsu-no-yama no zu), from the series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tôkaidô Road (Tôkaidô gojûsan tsugi no uchi), from the Gyosho version of the series, ca. 1842
While Hiroshige designed several series following the great success of his first Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō, one of the finest was published in the early Kaei era (1848–1854) and popularly known as the “Gyosho (Cursive style) Tōkaidō” after the calligraphic style of the titles. In this print, the mountain pass at Okabe, the twenty-second station on the road in the mountains west of Suruga Bay, is depicted. A robust traveler of Edo eagerly approaches a roadside tea house. There the proprietress, baby on her back, manages a bustling wayside business. A placard advertises the local specialty, Utsunoyama Dango, rice balls served with a sweet bean sauce, which can be seen hanging from the rafters, skewered on sticks or strung in circles.
The Woodblock Print
This woodblock from ca. 1842 measures approximately 9″x13.5″ on very thin original paper and is in good condition, especially considering its age. Strong colors and good bleed-through to its unbacked verso. A few small patches that do not affect the image, as well as a few small holes that are only noticed when looking carefully. A 1cm tear in the left margin that does not enter the image itself.
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.