Hiroshige I, Bank of Oi River, Landscape


Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Hiroshige I Ando (1797-1858)
Title: 25. Distant Bank of Oi River
Series: Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido
Publisher: Hoei-do
Date: c.1833-1834
Dimensions: 36.1 x 23.2 cm
Condition: Trimmed. Some pinholes and restored corners. Fold mark. 


During the Edo period (1603-1869), domestic routes throughout the country were greatly expanded. Yet, bridge construction across Japan's many rivers were still in their early days. The Tokugawa shogunate created stability throughout the nation, democratising travel for all classes in the feudal society after a tumultuous period of warfare preceding. In particular, the Tokaido road between the old capital of Kyoto and the new capital of Edo was crowded with pilgrims and daimyo, Japanese feudal lords. The latter could often be seen due to the sankin kotai, a law requiring alternate attendance between Edo and a daimyo's fief. The policy served the Tokugawa bakufu greatly, placing the upper ranks of the samurai class in a financial stranglehold. Such high standing warlords had to travel according to their status, accompanied by their entire retinue and thus contributing to a booming industry along the routes to the new city. Here, the view shows a party carrying their luggage across the Oi River, with the series of layered landscapes creating a sense of distance without the use of perspective. In the background, the dark mountain chain contrasts with the coloured hills, using bokashi gradation of sumi ink, Prussian blue and red to punctuate the scene.


Hiroshige I Utagawa (1797 - 1858)

Hiroshige I Utagawa was a woodblock print artist best known for his landscape prints and considered as one of the greatest Japanese artists in ukiyo-e history to have influenced Western impressionists, such as Van Gogh and Claude Monet. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he started sketching from an early age and was later accepted into Toyokuni I Utagawa’s highly successful studio mostly under the guidance of Toyohiro Utagawa (1773-1828), from whom he would adopt his art name. He also took nanga painting lessons that had a great influence on his later work.

In 1831 his first landscape series ‘Famous Places of The Eastern Capital’ (Toto Meisho) was published and the following year Hiroshige passed on his family responsibilities to his relatives to dedicate his entire energy to printmaking. In 1832, it is said that Hiroshige was appointed by Bakufu, the feudal government of Japan, to accompany an official procession from Edo to Kyoto along the Tokaido road. The artist made many sketches during this journey, resulting in the production of his most acclaimed series ‘Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road’, although some of the designs are based on older available images. To be noted that it was rare for an artist (and regular people in general) to be able to travel and sketch landscapes from life during the Edo period, which makes some scholars believe that Hiroshige depicted most scenes entirely from his imagination.

The ten-year period of 1833-1843 is thought to have been Hiroshige’s most developed and innovative time as an artist. A lot of series that were produced during this time, such as ‘Sixty-nine Stations of Kisokaido Road’, ‘Eight Views of Omi’ and ‘Famous Places of Kyoto’, would lead to the peak of his career when he produced the ‘Famous Views of the Sixty-odd Provinces’, ‘Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji’ and his last great series, ‘One Hundred Famous Views of Edo’. In addition to his landscape prints, Hiroshige also designed kacho-ga (pictures of birds and flowers), bijinga (pictures of beautiful women), yakusha-e (pictures of actors), warriors and historical subjects.

Hiroshige’s prints are particularly sought for their perspective and excellent bokashi (colour gradation). Careful overprinting and shading of colours bring to life many natural elements such as the sky or water, rocks and mountains. An appreciation for wood pattern can also be noted in Hiroshige’s prints, with certain designs showing a unique texture and an organic quality deeply cherished by collectors. As many other reputable artists, he also had many students, some of the most famous being Hiroshige II Utagawa and Hirokage Utagawa.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Horizontal)
ArtistHiroshige I Utagawa (1797 - 1858)
Size36.1 x 23.2 cm
SeriesThe Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido::Hiroshige I Utagawa