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Discovering Hiroshige’s Masterpiece: 100 Famous Views of Edo

Discover Hiroshige's 100 Hundred Famous Views of Edo, an iconic ukiyo-e series capturing the beauty of Edo (modern Tokyo).
Last updated Jul 10, 2024

As a lover of Japanese art, walking through the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit on Hiroshige’s “100 Famous Views of Edo” is nothing short of a pilgrimage. This series, crafted by the genius Utagawa Hiroshige, transports you back to the Edo period, presenting the beauty and daily life of 19th-century Tokyo with remarkable detail and vibrant colors. The exhibition, augmented by contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, creates a bridge between past and present, making it a truly unique experience.

A Journey Through Edo

Each print in Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e series offers a unique perspective on Edo’s (now Tokyo) landscape and culture. From bustling markets and serene temples to scenic bluffs and picturesque gardens, Hiroshige’s prints capture the heart and soul of the city. The Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition provides an opportunity to appreciate these works in a new light, enriched by Murakami’s contemporary interpretations.

Walking through the exhibition, you feel a connection to the past. Hiroshige’s meticulous attention to detail and his ability to capture fleeting moments in time resonate deeply. The addition of Murakami’s works creates a dynamic interplay between history and modernity, making the exhibition a must-see for anyone passionate about Japanese art.

Hiroshige: The Artist and His Legacy

Hiroshige, born Ando Tokutaro in 1797, is one of the most celebrated ukiyo-e artists. His work, particularly in the “100 Famous Views of Edo,” stands out for its composition, use of perspective, and vibrant color palette. Hiroshige’s keen observation of nature and urban life provides a glimpse into the Edo period’s culture and environment. His prints are not just artworks but historical records that capture the essence of a bygone era.

Takashi Murakami: A Modern Twist

In this exhibition, Murakami’s vibrant and eclectic style juxtaposes Hiroshige’s traditional woodblock prints. Murakami, a leading contemporary artist, brings his own interpretation of Japanese culture, adding a modern layer to the historical context of Hiroshige’s works. His involvement in the exhibit highlights the enduring influence of traditional Japanese art on contemporary artists.

The Origin of 100 Famous Views of Edo

The “100 Famous Views of Edo” series was created between 1856 and 1858, towards the end of Hiroshige’s life. Commissioned by the publisher Uoya Eikichi, the series showcases famous spots in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) across different seasons and times of day. This collection of prints (there are actually 118 in the series) offers a vivid portrayal of the city’s landscapes, cultural landmarks, and daily activities, making it one of the most beloved series in the ukiyo-e genre.

Notable Works in the Series

Here are some of the most notable prints from Hiroshige’s “100 Famous Views of Edo” that you must see:

Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (Ohashi Atake no Yudachi), No. 58

100 Famous Views of Edo - Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake
100 Famous Views of Edo – Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake
  • This dramatic print depicts a sudden downpour over the Shin-Ohashi Bridge, capturing the hurried movement of people seeking shelter. The contrast between the dark storm clouds and the bright flashes of lightning showcases Hiroshige’s mastery of atmospheric effects.

Recently, a version of this print owned by the late Freddie Mercury went up for auction. It was estimated to fetch up to £50,000. However, the piece exceeded all expectations by selling for an astonishing £292,100, a testament to its exceptional condition and rich historical significance.

Suido Bridge and Surugadai (Suidobashi Surugadai), No. 48

100 Famous Views of Edo - Suido Bridge and Surugadai - Hiroshige
100 Famous Views of Edo – Suido Bridge and Surugadai – Hiroshige
  • This print portrays a lively scene during the Boy’s Festival. The print captures a view over the densest concentration of samurai households in Edo, with three large carp banners signifying the strength and persistence attributed to young boys.

Sugatami Bridge, Omokage Bridge, and Jariba at Takata, No. 116

100 Famous View of Edo - Sugatami Bridge - Hiroshige
100 Famous View of Edo – Sugatami Bridge – Hiroshige
  • This print captures the bustling activity around the Sugatami and Omokage bridges. The intricate details of the bridges and the lively scene of people crossing and interacting reflect the dynamic urban life of Edo.

Plum Estate, Kameido (Kameido Umeyashiki), No 30

100 Famous Views of Edo - Plum Estate - Hiroshige
100 Famous Views of Edo – Plum Estate – Hiroshige
  • This print showcases the famous plum trees of Kameido, known for their striking beauty. The composition emphasizes the delicate blossoms against a serene backdrop, capturing the essence of spring in Edo.

Read More: The Significance of Sakura in Japanese Art

Minowa, Kanasugi, Mikawashima, No. 102

100 Famous Views of Edo - Minowa, Kanasugi, Mikawashima - Hiroshige
100 Famous Views of Edo – Minowa, Kanasugi, Mikawashima – Hiroshige
  • This intriguing print depicts three villages northwest of Yoshiwara, featuring a scene of cranes being fed rice. This area was known for the shogun’s annual crane hunts during winter, highlighting the cultural significance and protection of cranes in Edo period Japan.

Read More: The Significance of Japanese Cranes in Ukiyo-e Art

Fireworks at Ryogoku (Ryogoku Hanabi), No. 98

100 Famous Views of Edo - Fireworks at Ryogoku - Hiroshige
100 Famous Views of Edo – Fireworks at Ryogoku – Hiroshige
  • This nightime print captures a vibrant summer evening on the Sumida River. The scene is filled with pleasure boats and bustling activities around Ryogoku Bridge, where fireworks illuminate the sky, creating a festive atmosphere enjoyed by people on both land and water.

The Markings and Seals on Hiroshige’s Prints

Hiroshige’s “100 Famous Views of Edo” prints are not only visually captivating but also rich with historical and administrative details. Each print contains specific markings and seals that offer insights into their creation and authenticity. Here’s a breakdown of these elements:

  1. Title and Series Information:
    • The title of each individual print is housed in a square box, often decorated with intricate patterns resembling paper used for poetry.
    • The series title, “Meisho Edo Hyakkei,” appears in a vertical box, indicating it belongs to the “100 Famous Views of Edo.”
  2. Censor’s Seals:
    • Small censor’s seals can be found in the top margin or at the bottom left of the prints. These seals were a mandatory approval mark from government censors, ensuring the content was suitable for publication.
    • A second censor seal provides the date, specifying the month and year of approval. This date often precedes the public release by weeks or months due to the production process.
  3. Publisher’s Seal:
    • Each print features the seal of the publisher, Uoya Eikichi, which varies in form. This seal confirms the print’s origin and authenticity. Unfortunately, some seals were lost when pages were cut from bound books.
  4. Artist’s Signature:
    • The lower box on each print contains Hiroshige’s signature, “Hiroshige-ga,” signifying it as his work.
  5. Annotations by Previous Owners:
    • Many prints bear annotations such as page numbers and abbreviated English titles in pencil, added by previous collectors or owners. These notes provide additional context and reference for modern viewers and researchers.

Understanding these markings enriches the appreciation of Hiroshige’s artistry and offers a glimpse into the rigorous process behind each beautiful print.

Mapping Edo to Modern Tokyo

Hiroshige’s “100 Famous Views of Edo” beautifully captures various locations in Edo, many of which can be mapped to modern-day Tokyo. Here are some key points to understand how these historical sites align with present Tokyo landmarks:

  1. Asakusa: Known for the iconic Sensoji Temple, Asakusa remains a vibrant cultural hub. Hiroshige’s prints often depict bustling scenes of this area.
  2. Nihonbashi: This central commercial district, depicted in many prints, is still a major business center in Tokyo today.
  3. Ueno: Home to Ueno Park and several museums, this area features prominently in Hiroshige’s work for its natural beauty.
  4. Shinagawa: Once a post town on the Tokaido road, Shinagawa now serves as a major transportation hub.
  5. Sumida River: The river and its surroundings are depicted in several prints, showcasing both serene and bustling scenes.

By plotting Hiroshige’s print numbers onto a modern map, you can trace these historic sites, understanding how Edo has evolved into contemporary Tokyo. This connection allows for a deeper appreciation of both Hiroshige’s work and Tokyo’s rich history.

The Brooklyn Museum Exhibition

The Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition brings together these remarkable works, offering a comprehensive view of Hiroshige’s artistic genius. The display is thoughtfully curated, allowing visitors to journey through Edo as Hiroshige saw it. The inclusion of Murakami’s modern interpretations creates a dialogue between traditional and contemporary Japanese art, enriching the viewing experience.

The Brooklun Museum exhibition “Hiroshige’s 100 Famous Views of Edo (feat. Takashi Murakami)” runs from 5 April – 4 August, 2024.

For more details about the series and the exhibition, you can visit the Brooklyn Museum website.

100 Famous View of Edo: A Window into the Edo Period

Hiroshige’s “100 Famous Views of Edo” is more than just a series of prints; it’s a window into the Edo period, a testament to the artist’s genius, and an enduring source of inspiration for contemporary artists. The Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition, enhanced by Murakami’s vibrant contributions, offers a unique and enriching experience. Whether you are a long-time admirer of ukiyo-e or a newcomer to Japanese art, this exhibition is sure to leave a lasting impression.

As you explore Hiroshige’s Edo, you can’t help but marvel at the timeless beauty and cultural richness captured in each print. The Brooklyn Museum has curated an exhibition that honors the legacy of Hiroshige while celebrating the ongoing influence of Japanese art on the world stage.

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Salman A

Salman A

Based in the vibrant city of Dubai, I thrive as a designer and filmmaker with a passion sparked in childhood by the thrilling adventures of UFO Robot Grendizer and Speed Racer. My journey took a deeper dive into the world of art through a profound fascination with Japanese culture, enriched by memorable times spent in Japan. Creativity pulses at the core of who I am. Connect with me for tailor-made design and film projects that bring your visions to life.


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