Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) is one of the best known of all Japanese woodblock print designers. A prolific artist, he is thought to have created between 4,000 and 5,000 print designs during a career that lasted almost 50 years. Although Hiroshige produced a wide range of prints, including designs of beautiful women, kabuki actors, famous historical and mythological figures and bird-and-flower studies, he is most famous for his landscape prints which capture brilliantly the effects of season, weather and time of day.
This work, in which Mount Fuji is viewed through a split in the trunk of an aged cherry tree, is from Hiroshige’s final series of prints called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Hiroshige designed this series in large, vertical format, allowing him to demonstrate bold composition skills, in particular his fondness for balancing foreground elements with landscape backgrounds. Here he has exaggerated the size of the tree trunk in the foreground, and cropped it so that the tree extends beyond the print frame.
The art of Japanese woodblock printmaking was a collaborative process between the artist, engraver, printer and publisher; although Hiroshige was the designer of prints published in his name, he was in fact just one of a team of skilled craftsmen responsible for making them. Prints like this made a strong impression on European avant-garde artists of the time, as they offered a new freedom from imitative or photographic representation. Hiroshige’s landscape prints were admired and collected by many European artists including Manet, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and Whistler.
Koganei in Musashi Province
Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper
33.8 x 22.2 cm
Gift of Mrs Evelyn M. Allen and Mr and Mrs H.N. Spalding