In the 4th part of my exploration of the three great masters of the Edo period in Japan I am going to be considering the contribution of Katsushika Hokusai the second great master who like Hiroshige would concentrate on Landscape scenes and particularly scenes of Mount Fuji of which he was famous.
Michael Robinson in his Japanese Woodblocks considers the background to Hokusai’s artistic development.
” Although not the founder of the Utagawa School Utagawa Toyokuni was its most important master to study perspective in Western art”. .
” It was Utagawa Toyoharu the founder of the school introduced the idea of Landscape painting as a subject matter itself to Ukiyo-E . it was however the Katsukawa school protégé Katsushika Hokusai who was to become the early master of the landscape genre”. .
Robinson goes on to explain Hokusai’s contribution to the Landscape genre.
” Hokusai the early master of the Landscape genre was adopted into an artisan family”. .
” Recognising the limited potential of figurative work Hokusai turned his attention to Landscapes, he designed many landscapes pictures , beginning with the series ‘ Eight views of Edo ‘ and landscapes in the Western style”. .
Robinson continues with his commentary by describing the stations that Hokusai painted depicting breath taking scenes of some the most beautiful scenery in Japan. Hokusai was a consummate artist.
” The stations were a series of stopping and resting points for travellers masking the journey from Edo-Kyoto. Hokusai also produced ‘Shungan’ illustrations for erotic books as well as flora and fauna images”. .
” In his mature years Hokusai began a series of manga or art manuals designed to educate his pupils as a way for him to make money quickly”. .
Robinson now comes on to discuss Hokusai’s most famous project which was to give him worldwide recognition , his ‘thirty six views of Mount Fuji’.
” He began a series of landscapes which he was most famous for ‘thirty six views of Mount Fuji’. this was followed by the series ‘wondrous views of famous bridges in all the provinces”. .
Stanley Baker in her book Japanese art also comments on the mastery of Hokusai.
” Little of the baroque exaggeration is found in the work of Katsushika Hokusai. his landscape prints discovered vigorous new life in an ancient form”..
Stanley Baker continues her commentary quoting Hokusai himself on his progress as an artist.
” From about the age of 50 I produced a number of designs yet of all I drew prior to the age of 70 there is nothing of great note. at the age of 73 I finally came to understand the nature of birds , animals , insects flashes the vital nature of grasses and trees”. .
” His famous view of Mount Fuji so overexposed as to seem banal remains nevertheless a synthesis of supreme craftsmanship tinged with a remarkable human view of the world he knows”. .
Christine Guth in her Art of Edo Japan also gives great prominence to the genius of Hokusai.
” With an output numbering in the thousands Katsushika Hokusai was one of the most prolific versatile and influential of all print designers (artists)”..
” While Hokusai’s manga enjoyed great success his 36 views of Mount Fuji made the artist a legend in his own time”. .
Guth now concludes her commentary on Hokusai and starts to consider the influence of Utagawa Hiroshige the last of the three great masters of Edo Japan.
” Hokusai’s vision widely diffused through prints and books reflected and heightened public consciousness of Mount Fuji as a noble yet dangerous peak”. .
” Hokusai’s personal obsession with Mount Fuji was rooted in the ancient and still vital belief that it was sacred and the secret of the source of mortality”..
Guth now considers the contribution of Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige the last of the 3 great masters of Japanese Ukiyo-e printmaking.
” Utagawa (Ando ) Hiroshige was by far its most gifted practitioner. a low ranking Samurai Hiroshige studied Kano painting but was also conversant with other painting styles”. .
Guth makes a massive sweeping generalisation here about the ability of Hiroshige. Let us not forget he had the advantage of studying both Utamoro and Hokusai and anyway they painted different genre ‘s. As I observed in my previous article both Utamoro and Hokusai painted Genre styles whereas Hiroshige concentrated on Landscape. Guth is wrong to make a subjective statement like this with no objective evidence.
” Hiroshige’s compositions like those of Hokusai are characterised by a personal often highly contrived sense of order”. .
Guth continues her commentary of Hiroshige. I will concentrate on Hiroshige in my concluding article on Ukiyo-e printmaking of Japan.
” Hiroshige began using his celebrated 53 stages on Tokaido in 1833 a year after he himself had travelled along this route as a member of the Daiyo retinue”. .
” Hiroshige capped his long and illustrious career as a designer of topographic prints with the ambitious 100 famous views of Edo. Hiroshige capitalised on the traditions of pictures of famous places to immortalise shrines and Temples and tea houses”. .
This concludes my fourth part of my exploration into the three great masters of Ukiyo-e prints in Edo Japan. In my final concluding part I will consider the last great master of Ukiyo-e printmaking in Japan Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige.
- JAPANESE WOODBLOCKS : MICHAEL ROBINSON PG.15
- JAPANESE ART : JOAN STANLEY BAKER PG.192
- ART OF EDO JAPAN : THE ARTIST AND THE CITY 1615-1868; CHRISTINE GUTH. PG.113