In November 1896, Kobayashi Kiyochika began a new series of landscape prints depicting scenic spots throughout Japan. With the exception of the Tokyo triptychs issued earlier the same year, it was his first sustained effort at landscape since “One Hundred Views of Musashi” of 1884-1885. The publisher was Matsuki Heikichi V whose father had launched Kiyochika’s career twenty years earlier but whose firm had not published any of Kiyochika’s landscape work since the “Shizuoka views” of 1880-1881.
Entitled “Views of Famous Sights of Japan” (Nihon meishō zue 日本名勝図会), the series continued for six months, November 1896 through April 1897, reaching a total of twenty-eight prints. As with the “One Hundred Views of Musashi”, the format is vertical; but the layout is less contrived, with the title in a red cartouche at the top and the artist’s signature in a simple unframed cursive characters within the print. Adjoining the title cartouche on each print is a box of text describing the place depicted; in the latter part of the series, each such text concludes with a haiku signed “Senshu” – presumably a contemporary poet.
One characteristic of Kiyochika’s landscape art was his reliance on his own watercolor sketches of the actual sites where possible. In “Views of the Famous Sights of Japan”, for example, the distribution of the twenty-eight places betrays a bias in favor of those that the artist had visited. Most are in the immediate Kanto area around Tokyo (18, although only one within the city itself), the remainder are in the Kansai region (6) or scattered more widely (4), from Matsushima in the north to Hiroshima and Kyushu in the west.
For some of the more distant locations, Kiyochika may have relied on photographs, but for those in the Kanto region he must have worked from his own sketches. The actual sketch models survive for four prints in the series, all of them landscapes of the Nikko area in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo. The sketchbook models are dated to the day of the month, ranging from June 2 to June 6, 1880. They are immediately followed, however, by sketches in a similar style that are dated from November 1890 to January 1891, strongly suggesting that he recopied the original Nikko sketches over a decade later. The generally more finished nature of these watercolor models further supports the hypotheses of later recopying.
Mount Tsukuba (筑波山 Tsukuba-san) is a 2,877 ft tall mountain located near Tsukuba, Japan. It is one of the most famous mountains in Japan, particularly well-known for its double peaks, Nyotai-san (2,877 ft) and Nantai-san (2,858 ft).
Kiyochika gives us a view of the double peaks of Tsukuba-san on a wind-swept day, the figures leaning into the wind as they attend to their tasks and the tree bending to the force of the wind.
The Woodblock Print
For sale here is Tsukuba Mountain Seen from Sakura River at Hitachi , No. 20, from March 1897. At this time we’re unable to find any copies currently or recently for sale at either retail or auction – the only copies we’re able to find are all owned by Museums or Foundations.
The oban-sized woodblock is in very fine condition; while there is overall and even toning to the paper, there are no significant discolorations. Intact and clean margins and a clean verso. Lovely soft color reminiscent of the likely watercolor sketches.
About the Artist
Kobayashi Kiyochika (小林 清親, September 10, 1847 – November 28, 1915) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist of the Meiji period. Kiyochika is best known for his prints of scenes around Tokyo which reflect the transformations of modernity. He has been described as ‘the last important ukiyo-e master and the first noteworthy print artist of modern Japan… [or, perhaps] an anachronistic survival from an earlier age, a minor hero whose best efforts to adapt ukiyo-e to the new world of Meiji Japan were not quite enough’. The son of a government official, Kiyochika was heavily influenced by Western art, which he studied under Charles Wirgman. He also based a lot of his work on Western etchings, lithographs, and photographs which became widely available in Japan in the Meiji period. Kiyochika also studied Japanese art under the great artists Kawanabe Kyōsai and Shibata Zeshin.
His woodblock prints stand apart from those of the earlier Edo period, incorporating not only Western styles but also Western subjects, as he depicted the introduction of such things as horse-drawn carriages, clock towers, and railroads to Tokyo. These show considerable influence from the landscapes of Hokusai and the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, but the Western influence is also unquestionable; these are much darker images on the whole, and share many features with Western lithographs and etchings of the time.These were produced primarily from 1876 to 1881; Kiyochika would continue to publish ukiyo-e prints for the rest of his life, but also worked extensively in illustrations and sketches for newspapers, magazines, and books. He also produced a number of prints depicting scenes from the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War, collaborating with caption writer Koppi Dojin, penname of Nishimori Takeki (1861-1913), to contribute a number of illustrations to the propaganda series Nihon banzai hyakusen hyakushō (‘Long live Japan: 100 victories, 100 laughs’).