Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
Henry D. Smith, Amy G. Poster, Henry D. Smith II
Besides being the catalog of a marvelous exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, < I> Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo is the definitive study of the last series of landscapes produced by the Japanese woodblock-print artist Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858). These designs of Edo, or modern Tokyo, are among the most familiar images of Japanese art in the world: copies were printed by the thousands until the wooden blocks wore out. The Brooklyn Museum's set is of the highest quality, early impressions with extraordinarily skilful and subtle use of printing techniques, especially color gradation. Each of the designs, which ultimately numbered 118, is shown in the book full-size with a long caption on the facing page. The author's descriptions, impeccably researched, take us on a guided tour of the old city. Many of the locations are shown at festival time and demonstrate the richness of daily life and customs in premodern Japan.
A notable feature of the series is its use of what we would now call cinematic effects: abrupt framing that cuts a figure in half, or extreme juxtapositions of near and distant elements. Examples include an "aerial" view of the environs of Edo dominated by a close-up image of an eagle, and a study of the Horikiri iris gardens in which sightseers are seen through stalks that seem only inches away. Such imaginative and daring effects must have startled contemporaries. < I> Sudden Shower at Ohashi Bridge uses slashing lines to indicate rain-it was copied in oils by van Gogh, who, like several other impressionist painters including Monet, was the proud owner of many Japanese prints. < I> Hiroshige is a beautifully produced book; with individual designs of the series costing tens of thousands of dollars; owning a copy is a consolation for not owning the prints themselves. < I>-John Stevenson