One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1856-1858)

by Utagawa Hiroshige

This series is Hiroshige's last great achievment, being produced right up until his death in 1858. It actually comprises 118 prints, and a title page; many of the prints are masterpieces as good as anything he ever did, but some are quite mediocre.

While it was celebrated in his native Japan, it had if anything an even bigger impact in the West, where it heavily influence the Impressionists, especially Vincent van Gogh, who made oil studies of several of the prints (numbers 30 and 58) in it.

Even by Japanese standards, it was a monumental undertaking, being the largest completed series of the sizeable oban prints in nishiki-e ever. (Hokusai's "One Hundred Poets", although started, was never completed.)

It is the easiest of Hiroshige's series to find today, but it was printed in great numbers, and many prints are late impressions in poor condition. First editions can be detected by use of bokashi in the title cartouche.

Some prints in the series are attributed to his pupil, Shigenobu (Hiroshige II), especially the last three (by date, not by the canonical numbering), which appeared after Hiroshige's death, but argument as to exactly which or the two (or, more likely, which combination of their talents) is responsible for various prints continues to this day. Only one, a replacement for a print whose blocks had been lost, and which is explicitly signed by Hiroshige II, can definitely be attributed to him.

The theme of famous places in Edo was one of Hiroshige's favourites, and one he returned to again and again, in what has been counted by one authority to be over 1,080 prints! Clearly, as an Edokko (native of Edo), Hiroshige loved his native city. This series is a tribute to Edo, including not only natural beauty, but also references to history, custom and legend.

However, in this series he does not restrict himself to the most well-known places in the city, but seems to have been more interested in the compositional qualities that various places allowed. Over three-quarters of the prints in this series show the water, which abounded in the Edo of that era, built as it was on a river delta. The mountains around Edo, especially the perfect peak of Fuji, also make common appearances.

The series is a last grand farewell to the Edo that produced ukiyo-e, which was very soon to disappear in the reforms of the Meiji era.

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