Travel on the Kisokaidō road, from Hiroshige to Kuniyoshi
Video conference by Manuela Moscatiello, curator of the exhibition, responsible for the Japanese collections at the Cernuschi museum.
Manuela Moscatiello explains that she wanted not only to offer a trip on one of the most famous roads in Japan but also a trip to the iconography of the 19st s. Japanese showing the variety of treatment of the same subject.
Of the two roads connecting Edo (Tokyo), the shogunal capital, to Kyōto, the imperial capital, the Kisokaidō route is less well-known than that of Tōkaidō. It is longer (540 km) and passes through the mountainous interior. These two routes are part of a set of five routes (Gokaidō) that started from Edo and allowed the daimyō to come to reside in Edo every year, following the institution of sankin-kōtai by the shogun. This system made it possible to better control the great feudal lords but also to impoverish them given the exorbitant cost of maintaining two residences and trips with all their suite. However, the roads of Tōkaidō and Kisokaidō were also frequented by merchants, pilgrims, monks and tourists.
A video at the start of the exhibition shows several stages of the route at different times. It took two weeks to walk this Kisokaidō road, which required relays, sixty-nine in number, to rest and eat.
The exhibition presents two series of prints.
The first, which comes from the Leskowicz collection, is considered the most beautiful in the world, for the quality of the print and the freshness of the colors. It was commissioned from Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) and completed by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), and published between 1835 and 1838. This collection, which is made from the very first prints, presents details that no longer appear on subsequent prints. This series was commissioned by publisher Takenouchi Magohachi who had previously worked with Hiroshige for a Tōkaidō road series. It should be remembered that a print is the fruit of a collaborative effort between the publisher who places the order, the artist who draws, the engraver who will make as many plates as colors and the printer who will make the impression. .
The first print by Eisen shows the starting point of the route: the bridge of Nihonbashi: early morning snow. Eisen tends to represent human activities: here the bridge is crowded with passers-by and merchants who carry, in particular, fish to the very nearby market; it is about a “photograph” of the intense activity, in the early morning, on this important point of passage.
the 7st relay, Okegawa: view of the surrounding countryside is an exceptional print because it presents the signature of Eisen, the face of the seated woman has a pink complexion and the red band at the top of the sky is treated in gradient. These details no longer appear in subsequent prints.
Eisen will make twenty-four prints but without chronological concern and he skips stages that Hiroshige will complete. The 11thst relay, Honjō: crossing the Kannagawa River, is a magnificent print from the Leskowicz collection with intense colors, the red gradient of the sky and the seal that is not found in the later prints. A lord carried in a palanquin and accompanied by his retinue crosses the river on a bridge which gives, by its diagonal, a dynamic effect to the composition. Likewise, the stone lantern at the entrance to the bridge serves as an anchor point and one has the impression that the entire construction of the work revolves around this lantern.
Eisen and Hiroshige not only represented remarkable landscapes but also the customs and habits of travelers who took objects with them. The additional interest of the exhibition is to exhibit certain objects related to the prints.
On the 19st relay, Karuizawa, Hiroshige, we see three travelers, at nightfall, who stopped by the side of the road to smoke. Anyone who tries to light his pipe at a fire wears a smoking kit on his belt made of a pouch and an elongated pipe case. The objects represented in the prints are modest while those exhibited are luxurious objects, true works of art. Thus, the four smoking kits are made from precious materials: lacquer, leather, gold, silver and silk.
the 27st relay, Ashida, is very representative of the style of Hiroshige. There are many characteristic curves as well as the tiny presence of humans, highlighting the relationship between man and nature.
For the 37st relay, Seba, Hiroshige describes an early evening scene dominated by the full moon. It is imbued with calm and serenity. The trees, leaning to the right, seem to accompany the slow movement of the boatmen.
Hiroshige is a master of atmospheric representations and for the 40st relay, Suhara, we see travelers, caught in a heavy summer downpour, trying to take refuge in a small sanctuary. The treatment of the rain in thin oblique lines which energize the scene, the quality of the gradients, the silhouettes of the characters in the distance clearly evoke these heavy summer rains and make this print a masterpiece.
For the 41st relay, Nojiri,: view from the Inagawa River Bridge, Eisen stages a typical view of the road, with some travelers crossing a bridge over a gorge where the river flows. The treatment is very particular, almost surreal: the angular lines of the rocks and the river, the intensity of the colors and the gradations of blue, red or orange, make it a daring work.
For the 46st relay, Nakatsugawa, the Lebkowicz collection is fortunate to have two versions, the first of which is extremely rare: Nakatsugawa in the rain. This print has unique features: the samurai leggings are colored indigo blue, the rain strokes are made with a mixture of Indian ink and lead white to obtain shades of gray. The most likely hypothesis for the realization of the second version, Nakatsugawa in good weather, would be that the antlers of the first had been damaged.
In 47st relay, Ōi, Hiroshige camps a small group of travelers seen from behind, two samurai on horseback with their servants on foot, trudging through a snowstorm landscape. Of the characters, we only see the big hats and thick coats. The scene, very simple, is framed by two pine trunks partly covered by snow. The atmosphere of silence and isolation is remarkably rendered. Here too, the treatment of snowflakes on the shades of gray is of great beauty.
For the 51st relay, Fushimi, Hiroshige placed a group of travelers on the road and, at the foot of a tree, a couple eating. Next to the man, you can see a picnic kit that was customary in the Edo period. Echoing this scene, a window displays two very luxurious picnic kits. One, from 18st s., by its rich decor, was to be used by the aristocratic class while the other, from the 19st s., decorated with traditional New Year's toys and birds seems more compatible with the merchant class. These kits include trays, one or more stacked boxes for solid foods and a bottle for sake.
The last stint, Ōtsu, shows the road halfway up with Lake Biwa in the background. The facades of stalls and restaurants are adorned with signs with advertising messages: "good luck", "Hiro", "Shige" and the name of the publisher. The satisfaction of having completed the series is palpable here.
The second series, from the bequest of Henri Cernuschi, was produced by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) and published between 1852 and 1853.
Kuniyoshi came from the same school as Hiroshige and Kunisada but specialized in epic or fantasy scenes. His unbridled genius made him rank among the eccentrics and he enjoyed considerable success.
The spirit is totally different because the main subject refers to ancient heroes, scenes from the Kabuki theater or allusions to famous literary works like the Tale of the Heike. This, probably due to a sumptuary law of 1842 which prohibited the representation of actors, courtesans or illustrious characters who lived after 1573. The representation of the relay is relegated to a small cartouche at the top, to the left of the print. In addition Kuniyoishi plays with disambiguation and puns. If it was probable that the Japanese of the time would immediately catch the allusions, it is not the same today.
For the 3st relay, Warabi: Inuyama Dōsetsu, Kuniyoshi chooses to represent the hero Inuyama Dosetsu, character from The Chronicle of Eight Dogs by Satomi. This story tells the story of eight brothers, brave warriors, whose names include the word inu which means dog in Japanese. He is depicted as an ascetic, a magic ribbon around his head, invoking magic, unscathed in the midst of flames and smoke that swirl around him. It is one of the most successful dramatic compositions in the series. The cartouche, above and to the right, which bears the title of the series, is surrounded by small dogs. This small detail refers to the story but also had to be a source of amusement for the viewer of the time.
the 8st relay, Kōnosu: Musashi no Kami Moronao, alludes to the story of the Forty-seven ronins, representing Kō no Moronao and his retinue on the run, in the middle of the night, because the ronins want to avenge the death of their master. The link with the road comes from the similarity of the character's name, Kō no, and that of the Kōnosu relay.
the 16st relay, Annaka: Seigen, refers to a play by Kabuki Sakura Hime Azuma Bunshō which recounts, among other things, the impossible love of monk Seigen and Sakura Hime. Seigen is so infatuated with Sakura Hime that he is forced to leave the monastery and take refuge in a hermitage. He is seen here praying before Fudō Myōō, guardian of the Buddhist faith and one of the “five kings of light” whose image is dimmed by the appearance of Sakura Hime. The cartouche in which the landscape appears is in the form of the stylized character meaning heart, again a clue for the viewer.
A bronze statue of Fudō Myōō, dated 19st s., from the collection of Henri Cernuschi, is exhibited in the same room.
the 21st relay, Oiwake: Oiwa and Takuetsu, is inspired by a very popular tale of betrayal, murder and ghost. Here, we see Oiwa, who has been poisoned by her husband, realizing that she is disfigured and is losing all of her hair. Macabre detail, blood flows from the lock of hair she is holding in her hands. The name of Oiwa refers to the name of the Oiwake relay: Oiwa + ke, which in Japanese means hair. The cartouche of the landscape is in the shape of a rat because the heroine was born in the year of the rat.
For the 30st relay, Shimosuwa: Yaegaki hime, Kuniyoshi refers to a famous Kabuki drama Honcho Nijushiko. Princess Yaegaki hime in a magical helmet is seen crossing frozen Lake Suwa, protected by fox spirits. Lake Suwa, near Shimosuwa, thus justifies the illustration. The sumptuous polychromy of Yaegaki hime's kimono contrasts with the gray background where the spirits appear. Kuniyoshi was the son of a dyer and had a certain taste for beautiful textiles which he knew how to render perfectly.
the 40st relay, Suhara: Narihira and Dame Nijō, is inspired by one of the most famous works of Japanese literature, the Tale of Ise. Narihira, one of the six geniuses of classical Japanese poetry, is seen fleeing with the lady Nijō a group of palace guards. Lady Nijō had been the object of jealousy at court and Narihira helped her escape at night.
A vixen is also at the center of the 43st relay, Tsumagome: Abe no Yasuna. Yasuna, had saved the life of a white vixen and fell in love with Kuzunoha, in fact the vixen transformed into a beautiful young woman. They get married and have a son. One day, Yasuna surprises Kuzuhona in front of her mirror and sees a white fox there. His secret discovered Kuzuhona, returns to its original form. The print captures the moment when the young woman dissolves in the shadow of a fox under the bewildered eyes of her husband and her son, who tries to hold her back. In this print, a calligraphy box is placed on the ground. An adjacent window displays two magnificent and luxurious writing boxes from 18st s.
the 51st relay, Fushimi: Tokiwa Gozen, illustrates a passage from the famous Dit des Heike. Tokiwa Gozen is represented during her escape because she fears for the lives of her children. Caught in a snowstorm, she tries to protect them under her clothes while waiting for help. Here again, Kuniyoshi has fun with the names, because Tokiwa Gozen stops at a place called Fushimi which is close to Kyōto and which therefore refers to the Fushimi stage of the Kisokaidō road.
Kuniyoshi's series ends with Kyōto: the naked monster; end. Here, too, the artist refers to the Tale of the Heike. We see the naked monster, with the head of a monkey, the body of a tiger and the tail of a snake, in the middle of clouds and lightning, descend on the roofs of the imperial palace located at the bottom of the print. In the tale it is said that he caused nightmares to the emperor. In front of the palace we can see two small characters, the warriors Minamoto no Yorimasa and I no Hayata who are going to kill the monster. In the cartouche in the form of a palanquin, we can see mountains that evoke those that surround the capital.
Manuela Moscatiello indicates that a selection from a rare series of the Kisokaidō route by Kunisada (1786-1865) was to complete this set. Coming from the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, it could not come because of the health crisis, but a digital device gives an idea.