Japanese landscapes, from Hokusai to Hasui

Wednesday September 27, 2017: Japanese landscapes, from Hokusai to Hasui, visit to the MNAAG by Sylvie Ahmadian, lecturer at MNAAG.

The exhibition, made from the museum's collections, is devoted to the landscape, an emblematic and innovative genre of Japanese prints and also of the current Ukiyo-e or " Floating World Images At the beginning of the 19th century. The two great masters of printmaking, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), have particularly distinguished themselves in the field of landscape, producing individual pages but also many series. If the exhibition presents works universally known as " Under the wave off Kanagawa " Hokusai, it also allows to discover unknown pages and to follow the evolution of the landscape in the Japanese print until the middle of the XXth s. It is based on themes such as landscape as a place of genre scenes, as a pilgrimage, or place of legendary or historical scenes, but also presents avant-garde works of the current shin-hanga "The new print" as well as photographs of the second half of the XIXth s. heavily influenced by prints.

Utagawa Hiroshige. Fifty-three Tôkaidô relays. 28th view: Fukuroi, stop for tea. 1833-1834.

Attributed to Utagawa Toyohiro. Perspective view uki-e: Fireworks on the Ryogoku Bridge. Late 18th century.

Hiroshige has produced numerous series on the two main roads that connected the imperial capital Kyoto to the shogunal capital Edo (Tokyo), including that of Tôkaidô and its 53 relay, traveled by the Daimyo obliged to respect the system of alternate residences (sankin kôtai) set up by the Tokugawa from 1635, before it was used by pilgrims and traveling Japanese. As for the road to Kisokaido, or " Road from the inside »From a longer distance, it was made up of 69 relays also including restaurants, inns and tea rooms. Hiroshige's "Fifty-three Tôkaidô Relays", like the "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji » by Hokusai depict natural landscapes, while other series such as Hiroshige's "Famous Places in Edo" are devoted to the cityscape.
However, whether it is natural (as in most of the “Fifty-three Tôkaidô relays”) or urban (as in “ Fireworks on the Ryogoku Bridge, ”Attributed to Toyohiro (1773-1828), the landscape became - from the 1830s - a genre in its own right.

Utagawa Hiroshige. Fifty-three relays of Tôkaidô. Preparatory drawing with Indian ink for the 26ème vue. 1847-1852.

Utagawa Hiroshige. Fifty-three Tôkaidô relays. 26th view: Sayo mountain pass, Nissaka. 1847-1852.

From the technical point of view, a print results from the collaboration of four people: the artist who creates the drawing, the editor who coordinates the work, the engraver who makes the successive woods corresponding to the different colors (the first board being that of contours) and the printer who applies the colors. A Hiroshige ink drawing and its xylographed transcription - entitled " Sayo mountain pass, Nissaka », 26th Vue (1847-1852) - presented side by side, allow to approach the technical process and the multiple stages necessary for the realization of a polychrome print.
The landscape as a genre in its own right seems to come from two major sources: narrative painting, of medieval tradition, and which, in the Edo period, was expressed in particular through the famous places of the capital; and a symbolic representation of the universe, initiated by landscape painting in China. Some introductory works thus illustrate the beginnings of a landscape print: the 4-fold screen " Paintings in and around Kyoto », Circa 1600-1625, an anonymous painting in which, for the sake of fidelity to reality, famous places and monuments of the imperial capital such as the Nijô castle appear; a rare polyptych entitled " Map of the lands of Buddhism of the Small Vehicle Hashimoto Sadahide (1807-1873) offers a panoramic view of Buddhist lands unfolding in a vast landscape of distorted proportions.

Screen with 4 shutters. Paintings in and around Kyoto. 1600-1625

Hashimoto Sadahide. Map of the Land of Buddhism of the Small Vehicle. Detail of a polyptych. 1860.

The empathy of the Japanese for nature and the cycle of the seasons, which has its roots in the poetry of the Heian period (794-1185), is also one of the leitmotivs of the Japanese pictorial tradition, as evidenced by the folding screen. to 8 leaves Entertainment under cherry blossoms, in Ueno From the Hishikawa Moronobu workshop to 1680, where various human activities take place in the spring. It is obvious that the many landscapes prints, assembled in series by the masters of the 1st half of the nineteenth century, perpetuate this notion of the passage of time through landscape scenes declined according to the seasons.
If the first prints of the ukiyo-e, to 1680, include elements of landscapes, they are usually relegated to the background, thus constituting only a secondary subject of the work. In the same way as a theatrical setting, they define a context for genre scenes that unfold at the front. The vast polyptychs of Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), such as " Travelers on the road to Miho no Matsubara », from 1788 and " Women on a boat on the Sumida, under the Ryogoku Bridge ”, from 1795-96, are part of this contextual approach to the landscape: the emphasis is on the imposing figures in the foreground, while the landscape forms a natural setting for entertainment scenes.

Kitagawa Utamaro. Travelers on the road to Miho no Matsubara. 1788.

Katsushika Hokusai. Surimono. Walk along the Sumida River (detail). To 1800.

We must, indeed, wait until the beginning of the 1830 years for the landscape to become a genre in its own right. However, it is at the turn of the century that Hokusai's work is already showing a growing interest in the landscape as an artist of poetry and creator of poetry. surimono, luxurious prints as greeting cards for a party or meeting. Thus, in " Walk along the Sumida River », surimono directed towards 1800, Hokusai seems to be interested in certain technical aspects such as the chiaroscuro or the figuration of the space. A rare, large-scale preparatory drawing, dated 1830, is a milestone in Hokusai's work. Although the work is titled " Women and children crossing the bridge, Fuji in the distance », The relationship between the characters and the landscape seems to have been reversed: the characters are relegated to the upper part of the work and Mount Fuji, firmly anchored in the landscape located below the bridge, appears in the center of the work. work and concerns of the artist in a landscape that immediately imposes itself on the viewer.

Katsushika Hokusai. Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji: Under the great wave off Kanagawa. 1831.

Katsushika Hokusai. Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji: Southerly wind on a clear morning. 1831.

It was in 1830 that Hokusai, then aged 70, submitted to his publisher a project for large-scale prints on the central theme of Mount Fuji. The series of "Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji » (actually comprising 46 prints) constitutes one of the masterpieces of the artist who deploys here all his creative genius. A unique theme - Mount Fuji - declined in an extraordinary variety of frames, points of view, under changing lights and atmospheres, and at particular times of the day, allows the artist to study the metamorphoses of the sacred mountain in constantly renewed views. Works as famous as " Under the wave off Kanagawa " and " Wind make by clear morning Reveal the attraction of Hokusai for the powers of nature and the transformations of light, expressed through novel framing and dynamic compositions.
It's also in his series of « Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji » that Hokusai employs for the first time the beroai, Prussian blue (or Berlin blue), recently introduced in Japan (1829) and which helps to renew its artistic language.

Felice Beato. Fuji-Yama seen from Murayama. Albumen print on paper. 1864-1866.

Katsushika Hokusai. Journey through the waterfalls of the different provinces: Kirifuri waterfall, at Mount Kurokami. 1832 -1833.

Utagawa Hiroshige. One Hundred Views of Famous Edo Places, Summer Section: Sudden Downpour on the Ohashi Bridge in Atake. 1856-1858.

The "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji » aroused particular enthusiasm and inspired a number of artists, among whom appear - in the exhibition - Hiroshige in certain Tôkaidô relays and his two late series devoted to Mount Fuji (1856-1858), published posthumously; Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) in his 1843 series entitled “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji Contemplated from the Eastern Capital” or the British photographer Felice Beato (1832-1909) including “ Mount Fuji seen from Murayama »(1864-1866), by its layout and a poetic treatment of light, is similar to Japanese prints. The famous photographer has, moreover, colored his black and white prints using pastel and transparent pigments, thus sublimating the landscapes of Japan in a poetic vision of nature. If the theme of peregrination, the evocation of famous sites and the feeling of travel belong to the domain of poetry, they are also an integral part of that of Japanese prints; As evidenced by the thirty series of Hiroshige on the "Fifty-three stages of Tôkaidô », the first and most famous version of which was published by Hôeidô (1833-1834) following a probable trip by the artist on this road in 1832, but also the sublime pages of Hokusai belonging to his series "Voyage au thread of waterfalls from different provinces ", (1832-1833) and" True mirror of the poems of China and Japan "(1830-1834) in which he uses the vertical format and a rich chromatic palette dominated by Prussian blue.

Utagawa Hiroshige. Life of Yoshitsune. Episode 9: Ushiwakamaru and Benkei's fight on the Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. 1834-1835.

Shotei Hojuku. Panoramic view of Nihonbashi Bridge, Edo. 1811-1818.

Some pages of Hiroshige are just as fascinating and seductive as " The port and the cove in Awa » in the series "Famous Views of the Sixty-some Provinces" (1853-1856), or " In Akiba Shrine, Ukeji " and " Sudden shower on Ohashi bridge at Atake "Belonging to the luxurious series of" One hundred views of famous places in Edo »(1856-1858): these are veritable lyrical compositions with subtle color gradations and atmospheric rendering, the last prints cited being classified in various sections according to the seasons.

Other pages of Hiroshige remain, however, unknown such as its series of emblematic figures, illustrated biographies (like those of Nichiren or Yoshitsune) in which religious founders or legendary heroes are staged in a natural setting and often brilliantly. This is so in " The fight of Ushiwakamaru and Benkei on the Gojo Bridge in Kyoto Where Hiroshige uses Western perspective and the shortcut to express the dynamism of action. The work also reveals the links maintained with the kabuki theater.
Japanese artists have become familiar with Western perspective through works introduced in Japan by the Dutch living in Nagasaki. Prints depicting urban views and natural landscapes in perspective even form a particular genre ofukiyo-e, appeared during 2th half of the 18th century and known asuki-e or “relief images” or even “flowing images”. Several prints by Shotei Hojuku (ac.1789-1818) made around 1811-1818 are the result of his mastery of single point perspective.

Kawase Hasui. Evening sun on Matsunoshima. 1920.

Kawase Hasui. Snow on the Zojoji temple. 1953.

The last part of the exhibition is dedicated to the current Shin-hanga or "new print" and in particular to Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), a talented painter and illustrator, famous for his landscapes, and considered the greatest representative of this movement which appeared in the 1920s in Tokyo.
The Guimet Museum has the privilege of owning rare, recently acquired prints by this artist, who has made numerous travels throughout Japan, making sketches and watercolors that he then transcribed in his printed works. Often devoid of characters and tinged with melancholy, her prints are characterized by both a dreamlike vision of nature and a fidelity to reality that does not exclude a joint influence of Western painting and photography. His talent as a colorist is also masterfully expressed in Evening rain on Matsunoshima (1920) and Snow on the Zojoji Temple (1953), arguably the most famous of these prints. Kawase Hasui, whose work remains unknown in the West, however appears according to Hélène Bayou - curator of the exhibition - as "the most prolific and most widely disseminated heir to Hiroshige".


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