1797 - 1858

Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

Brooklyn Museum

Hiroshige's “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” actually composed of 118 splendid woodblock landscape and genre scenes of mid-nineteenth-century Tokyo, is one of the greatest achievements of Japanese art. In order to protect these very special prints, the Museum can only physically display them periodically, but they are presented here in this ongoing online exhibition. The series, reproduced online in its entirety, contains many of Hiroshige's best loved and most extraordinary prints. It is a celebration of the style and world of Japan's finest cultural flowering at the end of the shogunate.

Sections: 

I. Spring 

II. Summer

III. Autumn

IV. Winter

V. Further Information 

VI. Hiroshige and His World

VII. Hiroshige's Impact on the West

VIII. Hiroshige in Brooklyn

IX. Famous Places of Edo

X. How to Read a Japanese Woodblock Print

XI. Printing Techniques 

XII. Conservation

Spring

The series opens with spring. Scenes 1 though 42 represent the First to the Third Months, which are considered in Japan to be the spring season. Typically, early spring is marked by the festivities celebrated at the New Year, which begins the season. Blossoming plum trees are associated with the middle of spring, signifying the end of the cold season and the beginning of warm weather.

The most popular activity of the season is flower viewing. The word “flower” (hana) is equated with the cherry blossom, emblematic of this season in Japan:

Cherry flowers, 

   the image of 

   our fleeting world— 

   no sooner have they opened than they begin to fall

      -Anonymous poem from the Kokinshū (10th century), translated in Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson, eds., From the “Country of Eight Islands” (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1981), p. 117.

This poem reflects the traditional Buddhist concept of ukiyo, or “floating world”—one's transitory existence, or the impermanence of nature. In the Edo period, ukiyo came to mean the superficial pursuit of pleasure and the concern for living for the moment, best defined by the leisure activities of Edo's urban culture.

Once an activity reserved for the elite in Japan, cherry-blossom viewing became a popular activity with a wider audience. As the prints show, many classes of people visited sites known for the spectacle of blossoming cherry trees. There was also a commercial aspect to flower viewing, represented in the restaurants and seasonal open-air cafés that capitalized on the most spectacular views.

Anonymous poem from the Kokinshū (10th century), translated in Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson, eds., From the Country of Eight Islands (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1981), p. 117.

Summer

Summer amusements of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Months are represented in numbers 43 through 72. Evening outings in pleasure boats on the Sumida River were taken along the many famous bridges of Edo, where endless varieties of entertainment were offered.

Urban festivals (matsuri) were most numerous in summer. They included Kambutsue (the anniversary of Buddha's birthday on April 8th); Boys Festival (May 5th), when huge red and black paper carp were flown on poles, since carp were considered to symbolize manliness; and the Grand Sann Festival (on the 15th day of the Sixth Month), when a colorful procession made its way to Edo castle.

A formal occasion known as “opening the garden,” in the beginning of the Month, was an opportunity to marvel at great showings of irises and wisteria. These flowers were quintessential symbols of summer, as were the swallow and certain prized gourmet treats. The first of the bonito fish (a type of tuna) and the tiny yellow makuwa melon would be in demand by the populace of Edo and at their freshest during this season.

This group of prints ends in the rainy season, considered an uncertain time, when rain was welcomed for agriculture, but also when crops might be destroyed by pests or drought and cities threatened by epidemics. Yūdachi, an evening descent of the thunder god, exemplifies the typical summer shower in Hiroshige's prints: the heavens suddenly darken late in the day and release torrents of rain in large drops, after which the sky quickly clears.

Rains of the Fifth Month— 

they're happy to have a moat 

   round the encampment!

    -Poem by Yosa Buson (1716–1783), translated in Steven D. Carter, “Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 395, no. 974.

Poem by Yosa Buson (1716–1783), translated in Steven D. Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 395, no. 974.

Autumn

The people of Edo marked the autumn season with excursions to scenic attractions and harvest festivals, and viewing fall foliage at its peak. The prints numbered 73 through 98 suggest the activities of this season in Japan, the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Months.

The paper decorations of the Tanabata, or Star Festival, celebrated in the Seventh Month, indicate the end of summer. Strips of colored paper are hung on bamboo branches, tokens of the child's wished-for skill in penmanship. This is in fact the hottest time of year (autumn began in the Eighth Month). In the prints, the people strolling on bridges or out on riverboats at night wear yukata, the cotton summer kimono, and enjoy fireworks in the sky and their reflection on the river.

Since ancient times, maple-leaf viewing had been celebrated in verse, as in this poem, which refers to the red maples reflected in a famous river in Kyoto:

Not even in the age 

   of the mighty gods of old 

   was such a thing known: 

Tatsuta's waters tie-dyed 

with leaf-bands of Chinese red.

    -Poem by Ariwara no Narihira (825–880), translated in Steven D. Carter, “Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 210, no. 431.

In the Edo period, excursions to the best sites for viewing maple leaves at their peak were as popular as the flower-viewing festival of spring. Maples in late autumn present a beautiful sight when reflected in a pond, evoking the poet's image of rinsing brocade in water. In some of Hiroshige's autumn prints, the originally glorious orange color of the maples has blackened with age, spoiling the intended effect (the pigment used was probably either red lead or iron oxide, which can darken over time with exposure to air).

Numbers 82 and 90 feature another notable literary motif, the harvest moon, rising serenely through an autumn sky that is punctuated by a flock of geese or dimmed by a wisp of cloud. Rays of moonlight bathe the street below with silver light, creating an array of shadows.

Poem by Ariwara no Narihira (825–880), translated in Steven D. Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 210, no. 431.

Winter

The winter group, numbers 99 through 118, begins with a scene of Kinryūzan Temple at Akasaka, with a red-on-white color scheme that is reserved for propitious occasions. Snow immediately signals the season and is depicted with particular skill: individual snowflakes drift through the gray sky, while below, on the roof of a distant temple, dots of snow are embossed for visual effect.

At Tago Bay 

   I came out, and looked after— 

to see the hemp-white of Mount Fuji's lofty peak 

under a flurry of snow.

      

     -Poem by Yamabe no Akahito (early 8th century), translated in Steven D. Carter, “Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 207, no. 418.

As this ancient poem suggests, snow in winter offers the opportunity for the leisure activity of “snow admiring,” usually while drinking wine. Although snow is the most recognizable symbol of winter, another motif associated with this season is the crane, a symbol of longevity, celebrated in the annual crane hunt of the shogun.

The Edo public would expect to see dramatic depictions of chilly winter nights: the theme of cold weather and the evocation of melancholy are basic to the meaning of the scenes. The winter chill also gives rise to such emblems of Edo popular culture as bowls of hot noodles or roasted yams sold by street vendors. Winter ends with the coming of the new year, signified by the auspicious ringing of Buddhist temple bells.

Poem by Yamabe no Akahito (early 8th century), translated in Steven D. Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 207, no. 418.

Further Information

For further information about Hiroshige's series, refer to “Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” by Henry D. Smith and Amy G. Poster, published in 1986 by George Braziller and Brooklyn Museum of Art. This large-format book reproduces all of the works in the Brooklyn Museum's renowned complete set of Hiroshige's views of Edo at their actual sizes: each reproduction is more than 13 inches tall. Each of the prints is accompanied by an illuminating interpretation on the facing page written by Henry D. Smith II, professor of Japanese history at Columbia University. These impeccably researched commentaries discuss each work's artistic and cultural context in such lively detail as to take the reader on what is virtually a guided tour of the old city. Smith provides in addition a general historical introduction to the volume, placing the artist within Edo society of the time. The essay contributed by Amy G. Poster explores the Brooklyn Museum's Edo set from a curatorial point of view, explaining alternate ways of grouping the works, the specialized printing techniques used to create them, and the connoisseurship of Hiroshige editions. This is the definitive publication of the “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.”

Further Reading

Forrer, Matthi. “Hiroshige: Prints and Drawings.” With essays by Suzuki Jūzō and Henry D. Smith II. Munich and New York: Prestel, 1997.

Izzard, Sebastian. “Hiroshige: An Exhibition of Selected Prints and Illustrated Books.” New York: Ukiyo-e Society of America, 1983.

Miyao, Shigeo. “Meisho Edo hyakkei: tsuketari ehon Edo miyage / [ Andō ] Hiroshige ga.” Vols. 16–17 of “Ukiyo-e taikei.” Tokyo: Shūeisha, Shōwa 50, [1975–76].

Sakai, Gankō, ed. Hiroshige, “Edo fūkei hanga daishūsei / Hiroshige: The Collected Edo Landscape Prints.” Tokyo: Shōgakkan, 1996.

Smith, Henry D., II. “Hiroshige Meisho Edo hyakkei.” Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1992. Japanese edition of “Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” with revisions.

Suzuki, Jūzō. “Hiroshige." Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 1970.

Hiroshige and His World

Utagawa Kunisada (Japanese, 1786–1864). Memorial Portrait of Ichiryusai Hiroshige, 1858. Woodblock print. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, John Chandler Bancroft Collection

Edo was the city where the artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) was born, lived, and died, and it is the place depicted in the majority of his landscape prints. Edo (renamed Tokyo in 1868) was the largest city in the world by the eighteenth century, with a population of more than one million people. Established first as a castle town in 1590, Edo became the de facto political capital of Japan in 1603. For the next two and a half centuries the country would be ruled by a lineage of feudal overlords (shoguns) and regional military lords (daimyo). Required to live in Edo on alternate years, the daimyo, with their families, household servants, and samurai, or military retainers, accounted for about half of the city's population. The remaining citizenry were mostly the many merchants and artisans (known as chōnin, or townspeople) who provided for the material needs of the city, as well as a substantial contingent of Buddhist and Shinto priests.

In this prospering commercial center, economic power resided with the wealthy townspeople. Artistic patronage and production no longer belonged only to the ruling elite but reflected diverse tastes and values. A new urban culture developed, valuing the cultivation of leisure that was celebrated in annual festivals, famous local sites, the theater, and pleasure quarters. The rich urban experience and the landscape of the time were documented by ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” including woodblock prints like Hiroshige's “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.” Since they could be purchased inexpensively—one print cost the same as a bowl of noodles—refined images became accessible to a wide audience.

Hiroshige was born a low-ranking member of the samurai class. He inherited his father's official post within the shogunal fire-fighting organization (jōbikeshi), which protected Edo castle and the residences of the shogun's retainers. The majority of samurai retainers lived in chronic poverty and were forced to take side jobs to supplement their meager stipends. At age thirty-one, Hiroshige began to study under the ukiyo-e master Utagawa Toyohiro, who gave him the artist's name by which he is remembered. He subsequently led a very successful career in designing series of color landscape prints, such as the famous “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido,” 1832, and was considered the foremost artist of topographical prints, best known for capturing the atmospheric effects of place and season.

Only a few years after commodore Matthew Perry's mission to open Japan to the West in 1853–54, Hiroshige produced the most ambitious series of his career; prior to this work, landscape print series never attempted so many individual views. Issued between 1856 and 1858, “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” was called Hiroshige's “grand farewell performance,” since he died in 1858, during a cholera epidemic. The series, actually comprising 118 prints, remains not only the last great work of Japan's most celebrated artist of the landscape print but also a precious record of the appearance, and spirit, of Edo at the culmination of more than two centuries of uninterrupted peace and prosperity.

Hiroshige's Impact on the West

Old Battersea Bridge by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

With the opening of Japan in 1854, after two hundred years of isolation, Japanese art and culture were introduced to the West, initiating a fascination that began in France and spread throughout Europe and America, continuing into the twentieth century. Japan's participation in world's fairs during this time, and the circulation of Japanese prints and decorative arts, further increased Western interest in Japan.

Ukiyo-e prints were particularly popular with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters and were studied by artists such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gauguin, and James McNeill Whistler. Monet, for example, avidly collected the prints and displayed them in his home. Vincent Van Gogh, who with his brother Theo owned over four hundred examples, also organized exhibitions of Japanese prints. As the West entered a new century, Japanese woodblock prints provided an artistic alternative—in the use of color, perspective, and spatial structure—for presenting changes in society.

Hiroshige and his “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” occupy a special place in the Western reception of ukiyo-e. To many artists, prints from this series became important models for their paintings and prints. Individual images were either meticulously copied, as with Van Gogh's oil paintings based on “Plum Estate, Kameido” and “Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake,” or were more general sources of inspiration, evident in the adaptation of a particular landscape element or effect. “The One Hundred Famous Views of Edo”—in its evocation of urban life and the landscape of the city of Edo—complemented the vision of many Western artists of the time who were also concerned with the modern urban experience and its surroundings. After viewing another group of Hiroshige's prints at an exhibition in Paris in 1853, Pissarro wrote in a letter “the Japanese artist Hiroshige is a marvelous Impressionist.” James McNeill Whistler was inspired by the Hiroshige prints that he once owned. One need only compare Whistler's etching “Old Battersea Bridge,” 1879, with Hiroshige's “Kyobashi Bridge,” 1857, to see how direct that influence was.

Hiroshige in Brooklyn

Tracing the Provenance: The Discovery

Amy Poster (left), former Chair of the Asian Art Department

Curator Amy Poster, former Chair of the Asian Art Department, discovered a set of bound Japanese woodblock prints on a shelf in the Museum's Library in 1970, when she was a curatorial assistant. Poster correctly identified the prints as a complete set of the “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” by Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige. The Museum's records at the time contained no information about the prints. Curators then consulted R. G. Sawers, an expert in the field of Japanese woodblock prints. Sawers not only confirmed the authenticity of the prints, but also noted that they were an extremely rare complete set and an unusual early edition. (Only seven complete first editions exist today.) The prints were in pristine condition with brilliant color and sharp black outlines.

The Donor

Anna Ferris

In 1986, when the Museum first published a catalogue of “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” a visitor noticed a practically illegible note written in pencil on one of the print borders: “Gift of Anna Ferris 1930.” Curators began to research the Ferris family and their connections to the artwork. The donor, Anna Ferris (1851–1932), was the daughter of the Reverend John Mason Ferris (1825–1911), a prominent minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. John Ferris had worked as a missionary, and remained highly involved in the church's foreign activities for the rest of his life. In 1870, he founded the Ferris Academy in Yokohama and sponsored the education of many Japanese students in America. Anna Ferris lived on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn for most of her adult life. The Museum's records include the genealogy of the Ferris family in the records of the Hiroshige prints.

Famous Places of Edo

From the start, the “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” was no ordinary series of landscape prints. The title alone—“Meisho Edo hyakkei” (literally, “one hundred views of the famous places of Edo”)—suggested something new, first in the curious inversion of the conventional expression Edo meisho (“famous places of Edo”), and second in the promise of one hundred separate views, a scale never before realized in single-sheet landscape prints.

Meisho is usually translated as “famous places” or “celebrated spots.” However, the literal meaning—“a place with a name”—better conveys the oldest sense of meisho as an essentially literary place with conventionalized poetic attributes. Even though the names of the meisho referred to actual places in Japan, the places were less important than their poetic associations.

These “celebrated sites” tended not to be monuments connected with the rich and powerful, but rather places of relaxation and release from the strictures of a highly ordered society. Many were Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines or elaborate gardens. The major shrine and temple precincts—which included teahouses, restaurants, souvenir shops, sideshows, and even theaters—functioned much like modern public parks.

One important continuity between the classical literary meisho and the famous sights depicted by Hiroshige is the conventional association with specific seasons. Many places could be visited in any season, but most were connected with a particular time of the year. Edo was more closely linked with the seasonal life of its immediate countryside than were most western cities, where walls set the urban area apart and where it had been presumed, since ancient times, that city and country were essentially opposed.

In this series, Hiroshige was bringing to fruition a new conception of meisho. No longer was the term limited to the conventionally “famous” places—although he did not neglect these—but it was extended as well to places that, though little known, held special topographical or historical interest. Hiroshige's broader definition of meisho was based, in part, on the gazetteer “Edo meisho zue” (“illustrated famous places of Edo”) and prefigured in his earlier work “Ehon Edo miyage” (“souvenirs of Edo,” 1850–c. 1855). The “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” was part of a broad trend in mid-nineteenth-century Edo toward the careful exploration of the geography and history of the city, reflecting both a general spirit of empirical observation in the nineteenth century and the maturity of Edo as an urban center.

The cumulative portrait of Edo that Hiroshige paints in the 118 views in this series is rich and diverse, offering not only scenic beauty but also countless references to history, custom, and legend. It is at the same time, of course, a highly selective portrait, celebrating the beauty of the city, the prosperity of its merchants, the power of its ruler, and the pleasures of its people. The bright colors of the prints also make us forget that apart from its rich greenery and blue waters, Edo was scarcely so ideal.

How to Read a Japanese Woodblock Print

All of the prints are in the vertical ōban format, measuring roughly 14 1/2 by 9 1/4 inches. The artist's signature, “Hiroshige ga,” normally appears in a vertical cartouche on a red ground in the lower left-hand part of the picture, although some are placed on the right and three have a yellow ground.

In the upper right-hand corner of each print is a pair of adjacent title cartouches. The vertical rectangular cartouche on the right contains the series title, “Meisho Edo hyakkei,” always printed on a red ground, while the square one (or shikishi, “poem-card” format) is the title of the individual print. The artist lavished great attention on the design of these small squares, which are executed in a diversity of colors and patterns, including styled clouds, tortoise shell, and imitation of cut gold leaf.

Printing Techniques

The artist created the design for each print by making a finished ink drawing on thin paper. This drawing, known as the hanshita-e, was then given to the carver, who pasted the image face down on a block of wood, usually a kind of cherry wood (yama-zakura), and rubbed off the back surface of the paper so that the design appeared clearly. The design was then carved out, leaving the lines and resulting in the key block. Several proofs of this key block would be printed, one for each color, and on each the artist would indicate which areas should be provided with which color. From these, separate color blocks were then carved. The carver played an important role in the process, and from time to time in this series he left his mark.

The printer would then take up the work, printing each color in turn over the basic key-block pattern. Slightly damp paper would be placed on the block and then rubbed in a circular motion with a tool known as a baren. This was a circular pad about six inches in diameter, made up of coiled bamboo-skin twine, backed by a stiff disc of laminated paper and covered with a piece of bamboo sheath. It is said that a normal single printing consisted of about 200 prints, although in the case of this series, there is no way of knowing exactly how many were done with the care deserving of the label “deluxe edition.”

Beyond this basic process, deluxe editions of the “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” are distinguished by a variety of specialized printing techniques. Foremost among these is the extensive and refined use of the technique of gradation, or bokashi, by which color would be carefully wiped off the block before printing. Another particularly common technique is the use of mica (kira) to give a subtle glittering effect when turned in the light. Virtually every print in this series has some use of mica (an effect impossible to recapture in photographic reproduction). The exact technique of application is unclear, but it seems likely that powdered mica was lightly dusted onto the colored areas while they were still wet.

Also common in the series are a variety of techniques of pressing an uncolored pattern into the surface of the paper to give texture or volume; properly, such techniques should be known as “debossing,” but it is conventional to refer to them as embossing. Most common in the series is “fabric printing” (nunomezuri), in which a piece of silk cloth was placed over a block covering the desired area and then printed with a baren using very heavy pressure. This is found on many textile elements in the prints, including strips of cloth or sails and banners. It is also used on several of the title cartouches.

Another form of embossing is “blind printing” (karazuri), in which the desired pattern is carved into a special uninked block and then pressed into the paper. Another technique, known as kimedashi (also kimekomi), is a way of pressing out the paper to give a sense of volume. It is normally done by reusing the key block (or by cutting an identical block of the desired area) after it has been printed in black, this time without ink and by pushing the paper into the carved-out areas of the block, usually with the elbow. Finally, the three tiny claws of the eagle in number 107 are done in “glue printing” (nikawazuri), in which ink mixed with glue is printed to give a glossy effect.

Conservation

Traditional Japanese color woodblock prints are among the most-light sensitive works found in museums and collections. Although some pigments used in the printing process are stable to light; others (especially several of the organic dyes derived from plants) tend to be quite fugitive to light. Scientific analysis undertaken in 1985 found that some of the more fugitive organic dyes will undergo noticeable color change and fading within 20 years of exposure to light under museum conditions. Many color woodblock prints, especially those collected in the West that were framed and displayed indefinitely, have long since experienced fading of the more fugitive pigments and dyes used in the printmaking palette.

The Brooklyn Museum's set of “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” by Hiroshige is extraordinary not only for the variety and quality of the specialized printing techniques used but also for the pristine condition of the pigments and dyes. The inks are bright and vivid with no indication of fading or color change. When acquired by the Museum in 1930, the prints were bound together as an album and the book was placed in the Museum's library where it remained until the 1970s. During that 40-year period there is no indication in the Museum records that the album was ever displayed or the prints exposed to light. Although there is no information on the exposure history of the prints prior to their 1930 acquisition, one can assume by the freshness of the colors that the prints were either bound early on or that the individual prints were rarely exposed to light.

Knowing that the colors of this set are pristine and that any exposure to light begins a process of color change and loss, even if its not initially visible, the Museum has been extremely conservative in its exhibition and loan policies with these prints. The complete set was exhibited for the first time in 1987 and a second time in 2000. Additionally the prints were exhibited in groups of 25 by seasonal image (Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer) between 1986 and 1987. A few of the individual prints have also been lent for exhibition at other museums. The total exposure to light is factored by multiplying the duration of exposure by the intensity of the light. Intensity is measured in units called footcandles. All the above exhibitions were of limited duration, usually 6–9 weeks and the light intensity was lowered to 5 footcandles of illumination.

In order to preserve the prints for as long as possible, their exhibition will continue to be a rare and limited event. However, through the capabilities of digital imaging these prints in all their accurate detail and bright colors may be continually viewed and enjoyed on this Web site.

For inquiries about the Brooklyn Museum series, please contact the Museum by phone (718) 501-6255, or email edo@brooklynmuseum.org.

If you are interested in licensing for commercial use or require higher resolution images for personal and study use, please see the Brooklyn Museum Image Services page at http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/image_services.php for image usage guidelines and fees, and fill out our online application form, which includes details about available image sizes and formats.

Credits: Story

Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator of Asian Art — Joan Cummins
Associate Editor — Anya Szykitka, 
Head of Digital Services and Collections — Deborah Wythe
Editorial Assistant — Cindy Choung

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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