THE COLOUR-PRINTS OF HIROSHIGE - EDWARD F. STRANGE
THE PUPILS OF HIROSHIGE
It was a custom among Japanese artists and craftsmen for a pupil, on attaining a certain standard of merit, to be given a nom de pinceau by his master, in which was generally embodied the characteristic syllable of the master's name. Thus the names Toyokuni and Toyohiro express the artistic debt of those men to their master Toyoharu ; and, as we have already seen, Hiroshige's name was given to him for similar reasons, by Toyohiro. So far as this practice went, it is decidedly reasonable, and of considerable value to the student and biographer; for it at least indicates a chain of influence which may be important in considering the development of style. But, unfortunately for Western critics and historians, the artists of Japan, and especially those of the popular school, were not content with so intelligible a practice. In many instances, the whole name was transmitted to, or adopted by a successor, even unto several generations in extreme cases. Thus, the entanglements of those members of the Torii family bearing the names Kiyonobu and Kiyomasu are the subject of some involved discussion - in little apparent relation to the artistic merit of the prints concerned. A second Shiko seems now to be emerging from the mists of antiquity, on slender evidence, mainly presumptive. Utamaro and Toyokuni had their titular successors - in each case, persons whose individuality has been clearly established ; and other, less conspicuous, instances might be mentioned. But when, in 1897, on Japanese authority which, however imperfectly informed, was then well in advance of European knowledge of the subject, the present writer indicated the existence of a second Hiroshige and even ventured to suggest that he was responsible for a considerable share in the designing of prints signed with that name, the announcement was met with a flat and contemptuous denial from a Continental writer who has never realized that dogmatic assertion is not proof. Even in the latest publication on the general subject of colour-prints, is a reference to "a mysterious second Hiroshige," coupled with a comment which we venture to quote. Messrs. Sexton and Binyon say on this point : (1) "These reconstructions from the evidence of an artist's works, in disregard of other evidence, are always dangerous. We may recall from the history of Italian painting the case of Bonifazio. At first there was a single master ; then two were invented, Bonifazio Veneziano and Bonifazio Veronese. Then Morelli, with his detective criticism, deduced from the actual paintings that there were not two but three Bonifazios. And finally an Austrian archivist showed from documents that there were neither two nor three, but one single painter after all." Now all this has nothing to do with the question unless it is to be taken - as it will have been taken by all intelligent readers - to imply that the mere existence of a second Hiroshige rests on no better foundation than that of the mythical (in the case before us, say - "mysterious ") Bonifazios. Before passing to a consideration of the only thing that really matters, the question of the work, if any, done by a second (or third) Hiroshige, we must evidently make it clear that such an individual or individuals really did exist. We have no fear of a negative being astonishingly proved by any documents whatever.
He who, later, was to be known for a time as Hiroshige II, was a member of a family of those hikeshi-doshin or fire-police, to which the first Hiroshige's family also belonged. His family name was Suzuki Chinpei, and he was born in Bunsei, 9th year (A.D. 1826). Hiroshige never had many pupils ; but this man, to whom he gave the name of Shigenobu, was not only the most able of them, but the one for whom Hiroshige had the greatest affection. He took Shigenobu into his own household, married him to his daughter and undoubtedly collaborated with him. Mr. Kojima refers specifically to a kakemono to which Hiroshige contributed a plum-tree in blossom and Shigenobu the figure of a girl ; the painting bearing the signature of each artist. This seems to be the one sold in the Happer Sale (Lot 686) unless - as is probable - there are others.
Shigenobu appears to have succeeded to the name Ichiryusai, soon after Hiroshige discarded it. Indeed, Mr. Kojima says he published a series of Yedo Hakkei ("Eight Views of Yedo") with this signature as early as Tempo 11th year (A.D. 1840), but as he would then have been only in his 15th year, there may be some mistake - though such precocity is by no means impossible. At all events, he was still using the name in Ansei 2nd year (A.D. 1855) on a set of Chusingura prints ; and it was not until after the death of Hiroshige I that he assumed the latter's appellation of Ichiryusai, written in characters identical with those of the master. In a very short time, however, he dropped the "Ichi" syllable, in order not to be confused with a certain public story-teller named Ichiryusai Bunkaku ; and for a while used only the remainder, Ryusai, as, indeed, his master had sometimes done.
A contemporary painter, Ochiai Yoshi-iku, has left a record that Shigenobu was a very honest man who lived quietly at home and did not engage in the dissolute pursuits of many other of the Ukiyoye artists of the period. He had inherited Hiroshige's property - including his seals - and it is related that one morning, for reasons unrevealed, he left the house where his master and he had lived for so long, without his breakfast. Carefully taking with him his master's seals, he proceeded to join an old friend of his master, Kishimoto Kyushichi, an amateur painter who had taken lessons from Yeizan ; and he divorced his wife. We are told that Shigenobu was an ugly man, with square-shaped, pock-marked face. Shigemasa, who married the divorced lady, on the other hand, was younger, better-looking and much favoured by women - hence, perhaps, the domestic tragedy. However, Shigenobu found it difficult to get a living. He was helped by Okajima Rinsai and also by Toyokuni (Kunisada), who contributed figure-subjects to Shigenobu's landscapes. He married again and in his new circle was known as Kisai Rissho - a name he would seem to have adopted between the years 1864, when he signed the 9th volume of the Yehon Yedo Miyage, "Hiroshige II" (in collaboration with Shigemasa), and 1867, when the 10th and last volume has the signature "Sakino Hiroshige Rissho " - Rissho changed from Hiroshige.
In 1866 the Tokugawa Bakufu (says Mr. Kojima) made a collection of Japanese works of art for the Paris Exhibition of 1867. (2) Mizu-no Izumi-no-kami, the commissioner appointed to get the collection together, seems to have had some knowledge and appreciation of the Ukiyoye School, and ordered one of his subordinates to secure a representation of it. Among the artists on whom the choice fell was Shigenobu, who, under his new name of Rissho, contributed paintings of Sumida-no-Watashi, Asukayama, UmeYashiki and others. It is interesting to note that the "mysterious" Hiroshige II was among the first Japanese artists to exhibit in Europe. That fact alone is some sort of testimonial to a degree of artistic merit which has been admitted by several modern Japanese critics.
In spite of this distinction, Shigenobu had, at this time, little success. Indeed, the troubled times which culminated in the Meiji revolution seem to have been hard on the artists of the popular school, generally ; and Shigenobu was driven to abandon his painting and struggle for a bare living in decorating lanterns (chochin), kites and the like. Towards the end, he moved to Yokohama, resumed his own name, and found employment in painting chabako (tea-boxes) for export to Europe. His friend Kishimoto still helped him from time to time ; but in Meiji 2nd year (A.D. 1869) he died in great poverty, in his 44th year. Kishimoto paid for his funeral. He left no family.
The question of the extent to which Shigenobu is entitled to share in the credit for the prints bearing the signature of Hiroshige, without further qualification, is one that demands at least careful examination. My earlier suggestion, that most of the upright landscapes should be attributed to him, should probably be modified. Yet it was made on what was at the time considered to be competent Japanese authority, and has since been supported to a considerable extent by the opinion of Mr. Hogitaro Inada, an accomplished and unprejudiced critic, who has a remarkably extensive practical acquaintance with the subject. On the other hand, the present tendency of Japanese critics generally (who, following the lead given to them by European writers, seem at last to have begun really to appreciate the landscapes of Hiroshige) is to give everything published during his lifetime and some work only completed shortly after his death to the first (and, of course, greatest) of the name. And this point of view has the unbending adherence of Mr. J. S. Happer, to whose patient and tireless researches we all, and the present writer in particular, owe so much. Moreover, it may here be conveniently stated, that Mr. Happer is entitled to the credit of having been the first to identify Shigenobu as the second Hiroshige. I had already, in a comment on landscape prints signed Shigenobu, referred to an evident influence derived from Hiroshige ; but I was not then furnished with information as to the existence of a Shigenobu who was not the better-known Yanagawa Shigenobu, a disciple of Hokusai.
As long ago as April 1904, Mr. Happer wrote to me from Yokohama that he had identified the designer of these landscapes with the second Hiroshige and had secured a series of prints with signatures in proof ; and in his introduction to the catalogue of his collection sold in 1909 he elaborated the point and proved it beyond - as one would have thought - the possibility of controversy. This identification was accompanied with an explanation of the dated seals found on many of the later prints, on which they were placed under the censorship at that time existing. These seals referred only to the year of the cycle of 12 years then used in Japanese chronology ; and, alone, could not be trusted to furnish a precise date within the limits therein prescribed. But the occasional occurrence of the symbol of an intercalary month supplied an exact clue to the particular year of the cycle in a number of cases sufficient for the identification of style and authorship. From this evidence it became certain that a considerable number of the upright designs, attributed by me, as previously stated, to the second Hiroshige, were undoubtedly made during the lifetime of his master and issued from his workshop. These facts place the problem in a different light, and call for consideration accordingly.
The principal series concerned are - taking them in the order of approximate date assigned in the Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition - The upright Tokaido series, published in 1855 by Tsutaya; "Views of Over Sixty Provinces," published from 18S3 to 1855 by Koshihei ; the famous "Hundred Views of Yedo," published by Uwoyei from 1856 to 1858 ; the "Thirty-six Views of Fuji," published by Tsutaya, dated 1858 but not issued till 1859. These are all attributed by the editors of the Memorial Catalogue to Hiroshige I. But we must also bring into view with them the "Hundred Views of Various Provinces," published by Uwoyei from 1859 to 1861 and attributed definitely by the last-named authority to Hiroshige II. It will at once be seen that the whole group relates to a period of about twelve years only, corresponding exactly with that of the activities of Shigenobu, if we accept the statement on page 52 of the Memorial Catalogue, that this man's work "began to be known from 1852." He was then in his 26th year. Prints bearing his own signature (Shigenobu) occur with dates within our period (including some close copies of others, signed Hiroshige, and of similar date). His use of the signature "Second Hiroshige" seems to belong, mainly, to the year 1859, after the death of his master. We are inclined, therefore, to accept the contention that he did not publish, independently, under the name of Hiroshige I during the latter's life-time. And the statements made as to the affection existing between the master and pupil, and the honesty and simplicity of the latter's character, tend in the same direction. It must never be forgotten that the copying of a master's work was an essential part of the education of any artist in Japan.
The question, therefore, resolves itself into the share of Shigenobu in the work produced by the Hiroshige atelier during the period from about 1852 to 1865. In round numbers, something like 1,000 prints seem to have been completed during the six years up to the death of Hiroshige I, and several hundred within the next few years after that event, without counting those in collaboration with Kunisada (died 1864) and Kuniyoshi (died 1861). If we credit Hiroshige I merely with the initial design of these prints, it represents an amazing mass of industrious achievement, even allowing for the singular dexterity and speed with which an accomplished Japanese artist places his idea on paper when once he has visualized his subject. And, as we have noted elsewhere, the making of designs for colour-prints was by no means Hiroshige's only occupation in life. When he went on his many journeys, his principal business seems to have been the painting of screens, theatrical scenery, drop-curtains and the like. He sketched voluminously, it is true ; and we know that his sketches formed the basis of his colour-print designs. Much more than that was, however, involved in the completion of a colour-print. The first idea had to be expanded and translated into a full-sized line-drawing for the engraver - often with an intermediate drawing, carefully thought-out and executed, but not necessarily to scale. The colour-scheme must have been devised - unless, as I am inclined to suspect, it was left very largely, during his later years, to the printers. Proofs marked for colour would require to be prepared to the extent of the dozen, more or less, needed for each composition ; and all the coming and going connected with the business side of the operations must be brought to account. And Hiroshige was a cheerful and sociable soul, who enjoyed life and by no means enslaved himself to his trade.
On the subject of the work of a pupil in a designer's studio Mr. Happer has been so good as to write to me as follows :- "A student . . . means in Japan a kind of apprentice, who has his board and lodging and he is a sort of 'learn pidgin' as they say in China, i.e. one who looks, listens and learns ; in Japan Mi-narai (look-learn). Such an one would naturally spend his time daily in practising and in copying his master's designs. To spend four or five years in his master's studio without issuing any original work would not be unusual when you remember the necessity of sureness of touch, the necessity of having the plan in your head before the brush is put to paper. . . . After the black-and-white impression was ready for filling in the colour-scheme, then Shigenobu might have helped, e.g. to put in the red on the red block, etc. But the Japanese do not consider that collaboration ; any careful child could do it ; they call that tetsudai - helping, manual labour, such as any apprentice might be able to do."
Now, with all deference to the opinion of so high an authority, I cannot go so far as Mr. Happer ; for I think the case he states - and undoubtedly states accurately as a general proposition - is hardly quite applicable to the facts before us. However he began, Shigenobu was more than a Mi-narai pupil, by the time he had arrived at the period we are discussing. He was publishing prints under his own name, which, if without the genius of his master or that of the half-dozen living leaders of his school, were, nevertheless, respectable craftsman's work, adequate from the technical point of view. He was an admitted member of the family and must have married the daughter just about this time. But for that alliance, he would have been in business for himself, seeing that he had reached the age of twenty-six. We know that he was a competent painter - by the later Ukiyoye standard ; and I cannot but think that Hiroshige gave him a far larger share in the output of the firm than Mr. Happer suggests.
The undoubted change of style - and, in the aggregate, for the worse - shown in the voluminous productions of Hiroshige in his later years, has been ascribed by one writer to failing powers. I cannot find any evidence of a failure in the physical sense. His death was sudden and not the result of long illness. It occurred when he was by no means an old man by the standard of Hokusai or of his friend Kunisada ; and, up to the last, his popular reputation seems to have been well maintained. Commercialism has also been suggested in plain English, that he scamped his work in order to exploit the popularity created by his earlier successes. On that point, one may be permitted to quote the opinion of Mr. Minora Uchida - who has, perhaps, investigated the subject as closely as anyone, so far. Mr. Uchida says :-
"It appears that like a true artist, he drew pictures not for the sake of pecuniary gain but solely for the sake of art. Little did he care about his scanty means of living. He was never tired of paying visits to various places far and near in all sorts of weather, especially in rain and snow, day and night, not so much for the purpose of making sketches as for the enjoyment of Nature."
In these words, Mr. Uchida comes, I think, very near to the probable solution of the question.
Let us consider the work of Hiroshige, in relation to that of his contemporary designers of colour-prints. These found their subjects at their doors - the theatres, for sale in the attached tea-houses of which, they made portraits of actors or prints of subjects of the popular dramas ; or the courtesans, whose customers also ranked strongly in their clientele. It all tended to a common round, a narrow and somewhat sordid outlook. But Hiroshige was a wanderer. The fragments that authentically remain of the records of his travels prove how great a share of his inclination was given to his journeys. If ever a man loved the road for its own sake, it was he. And his life is punctuated with long absences from Yedo, of months at a time - even, in one early instance, if Mr. Shozo Kato's story holds good, for three years. On these journeys he made his exquisite little sketches - he must have done hundreds of them. As his pupils, and especially Shigenobu, the most able of them, became efficient, I suggest that he left the trade side of the concern largely to them. Even his latest work shows, again and again, a breadth of design, of conception, of poetic suggestion that is far from evidencing "failure of powers." The failure, such as it is, is in execution in the filling-in of the details, the loss of human interest in the figures, of delicacy in the nuances of the landscape. And it seems to me that these qualities carry on beyond his death - that they are present, in a diminishing scale, in series of prints which no one has yet ventured to ascribe to Hiroshige I. Briefly, then, I conclude that we must give the master credit, for what it is worth, for the whole group of work indicated earlier in this chapter - whether published before or soon after his death. That he was the inventor and only true begetter of this wonderful series of designs which, at their worst, have qualities not yet reached by the best of those artists, whether Japanese or Western, who have tried to follow in Hiroshige's footsteps. And that the decadence is due to the introduction of Shigenobu to a share - perhaps too great - in the working-out of his master's lightly-sketched ideas (shitazu). The latter had shown that he was well able to do this much. Hiroshige himself was free to wander ; and, when he died, there remained a quantity of more or less unused material for the pupils to carry on the tradition.
That this is more than a mere conjecture we have at least a fairly definite indication ; for in the preface to the 8th volume of Yedo Miyage, published in 1861, the writer says : "It is now a memorial of him (Hiroshige I) since he is dead, but from sketches left behind are these views reproduced." The work in these later volumes is much inferior to that of those issued during Hiroshige's lifetime ; and it cannot be assumed that these inferior prints "reproduce" the Master's drawings in the sense that they are facsimile copies. Volume 8 is perhaps by Shigenobu ; the rest are built up, by a designer of little skill - Hiroshige III - from sketches such as we have already referred to and seem to indicate the method by which the abler Shigenobu may have arrived at the prints of the debatable period.
A brief note may be added as to prints undoubtedly done by Shigenobu. The earliest dated examples we have noted belong to the year 1852, as previously mentioned ; but specimens (with figure subjects only and not landscape) are to be found, which one is inclined to place before these. Some are signed Ichiyusai Shigenobu ; and an example may be mentioned - a 3-sheet print of Raiko in Oyeyama, published by Fujikei, which bears the inscription "Ichiryusai's pupil, Shigenobu." Hiroshige's 3-sheet print, "Shichiri-ga hama, with visitors on their way to Enoshima," published by Sanoki, was closely copied by Shigenobu (with the prefix Ichiyusai) in 1857, and a third version exists which is later and also by him, signed Hiroshige and dated 1860. Each was issued by a different publisher. In the latter year he produced a set of 48 Views of Yedo (Tsutakichi, publisher) ; and, during the period 1859-1861, Uwoyei issued for him not fewer than eighty of a "Hundred Views of the Various Provinces " ; as did Tsutakichi a further 68 sheets of a similar series. He is also to be credited with several sets of Yedo Views - all the foregoing being either full or half-sized vertical prints. His first efforts were in the conventional Ukiyoye style ; and show neither imagination nor other quality of distinction beyond good craftsmanship. He repeats the pose of his figures, without scruple, in different subjects ; and, in this respect, evidently possessed even fewer formula than did the generality of his fellows. He must have learned a great deal from his master ; but invention was not thus to be acquired. So long as he had, if our theory is correct, the mass of the first Hiroshige's sketches to exploit, he often produced something fairly creditable ; but when, as in the 3-sheet interior of the "Iwakami Tea-house at Yokohama," a special order of 1860, he is left to his own resources, there is no evidence of the old inspiration - while his not unsuccessful 3-sheet souvenir print, done in 1863 to celebrate the 255th anniversary of the Bungo-no-jo Theatre, Yedo, is a frank return to his earlier conventions. In 1865 he was collaborating - in spite of domestic complications - with his rival in the succession, Shigemasa ; of whom we need only say that his work is unimportant and only illustrates the utter decadence into which the Ukiyoye School fell after the death of its last three leaders, Hiroshige I, Kunisada and Kuniyoshi - a decadence only relieved by the genius of two men who lived too late to have the benefit of the old, beautiful technique - Kyosai and Yoshitoshi.
In conclusion, I cannot refrain from quoting, at some length, the judgment of Mr. Yone Noguchi on this matter of the several Hiroshige. He says (3) :
I have right here before me the picture called " Awa-no Naruto," which is more often credited to be the work of the second Hiroshige. . . . It is my opinion that there was only one Hiroshige. I say this because in old Japan (a hundred times more artistic than present Japan) the individual personality was not recognized, and when an artist adopted the name of Hiroshige by merit and general consent, it meant that he grew at once incarnated with it ; what use is there to talk about its second or third ? I prefer to regard Hiroshige as the title of artistic merit since it has ceased in fact to be an individuality.... And I see so many pictures, which, while bearing his signature, I cannot call his work, because I see them so much below the Hiroshige merit - for instance, the whole upright series of Tokaido and Yedo, and so many pictures of the "Noted Places in the Provinces of Japan " -because they are merely prose, and even as prose they often fail. But to return to this "Awa-no Naruto," a piece of poem in picture, where the whirlpools of the strait, large and small, now rising and then falling in perfect rhythm, are drawn suggestively and none the less distinctly. I see in it not only the natural phenomenon of the Awa Strait, but also the symbolism of life's rise and fall, success and defeat.
If Mr. Noguchi had been acquainted with the original sketch of the Awa rapids, by the first Hiroshige - one of the most brilliant and exquisite of all his little shorthand notes of Nature - he would not have altered his opinion, though he might have expressed it in other language. For here is the "piece of poem in picture," that the acute intelligence of the poet discerned in the large, somewhat diffuse 3-sheet print to which he refers - the essential gem of the superb landscape planned by Nature, but set in a somewhat commonplace environment dictated by commercial requirements and no doubt executed largely by the pupil. I subscribe to Mr. Noguchi's philosophy - if, with some trepidation, I rightly interpret it. And, in this philosophical sense, I am content to say with him, "There was only one Hiroshige."
A brief note only need be given to the other pupil of Hiroshige, Shigemasa. When Shigenobu separated from his wife, she married this man, who always claimed that he was the legitimate Hiroshige the Second. His work was poor and is quite unimportant. He died at the age of 53 in 1894 ; and was therefore only 17 years old at the death of Hiroshige I - too young to have exerted any great influence on the work then being produced. In spite of their matrimonial complications, he is known to have collaborated with his rival on occasion. It is a pity that an authentic account of the whole matter was not obtained from him in time - but no one in Japan then gave much thought to his work. The present Prime Minister of Japan, at a meeting of the Japan Society, in 1895, in the course of a discussion following a paper read by the author, referred "to the fact that the coloured drawings (sic) were only regarded as common prints in Japan. They cost about a penny or three halfpence and were usually bought as presents for children. He was, however, gratified to learn that what in his country they thought lightly of was esteemed and sought after abroad.... No Japanese remaining at home dreamt of the complimentary manner in which these little drawings were held by Europeans." Truly, we have moved a little since then!