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Curator: Clare Pollard, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) is one of the best known of all Japanese woodblock print designers. He is particularly renowned for his landscape prints, which are among the most frequently reproduced of all Japanese works of art. These were hugely successful both in Japan and in the West. Their unusual compositions and masterly expression of weather, light, and season proved enormously influential for many leading European artists, including Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh.

This touring exhibition, from the Ashmolean Museum’s Eastern Art collection, includes over 20 views of Mount Fuji from several different Hiroshige series; some devoted entirely to Fuji and others in which Fuji appears in views of Edo or is seen from the Tokaido Road.

Find out more about our Children’s Painting Competition, inspired by this beautiful exhibition.

 Koganei in Mushashi Province, 1858

Mount Fuji, an active volcano and Japan’s highest mountain has long been praised by poets and depicted by artists for its beautiful shape and sacred status. In the mid 1800s, Hiroshige created numerous views of Mount Fuji in different seasons and atmospheric conditions. This subject had already been made popular in the 1830s by the renowned Japanese artist Hokusai. While undoubtedly inspired by Hokusai’s work Hiroshige’s prints on the subject were not derivative. His landscapes were often gentler in mood, placing a greater emphasis on atmospheric conditions. In his depiction of The Sea at Satta, Fuji is framed by a giant curling wave in the foreground. The design recalls Hokusai’s famous Great Wave but Hiroshige’s version is calmer and more
detached. The water is printed with great sophistication, with three shades of blue contrasting with the white wave crests, which in turn harmonise with the white peak of Mount Fuji in the background.

 The Sea at Satta in Suraga Province, 1858

A striking feature of Hiroshige’s later prints was the way they often balanced foreground elements with landscape backgrounds as a means of creating a sense of depth and drawing the viewer into the print. In his depiction of Koganei in Musashi Province, Fuji is viewed through a split in the trunk of an aged cherry. The scene is bursting with signs of spring, with cherry blossom, colourful flowers and small birds flying overhead.

Travellers along the Tokaido Road, the famous highway that linked Edo with the ancient capital of Kyoto, were granted beautiful views of Mount Fuji along many parts of the route. In Hiroshige’s depiction of Mishima, a village situated on the Tokaido, Fuji provides a majestic backdrop to a scene of travellers crossing a bridge on a snowy day, the soft purple colouring on the horizon suggesting early morning light.

 Mishima, 1840–42

Clare Pollard is the curator of Japanese Art at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Her main area of research is the decorative arts of the Meiji era (1868-1912), including ceramics, ornamental textiles and sculpture. She is also interested in Japanese prints, including the landscape prints seen in this exhibition.

ALL IMAGES © The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

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