THE COLOUR-PRINTS OF HIROSHIGE - EDWARD F. STRANGE
A form of colour-print which differs considerably from the ordinary productions was made only for special occasions ; and not, as a rule, either issued through publishers or sold broadcast to any purchaser who came along. To these is given the name surimono (literally, "thing printed"), and although the majority might be described as New Year cards, they were also done to announce or celebrate other particular festivities or events ; such, for instance, as a change of name, as when Kunisada took the name of his master, Toyokuni, on the 7th day of the New Year, 1844, and circulated a portrait of himself among his friends. Actors adopted a similar procedure ; and a successful meeting of clubs of poets would likewise be recorded in a charming little print, exquisitely executed on special paper, often embellished with gauffrage (blind printing) and a liberal use of metallic tints, gold, silver or bronze. Surimono date back well into the eighteenth century, but the first half of the nineteenth century was the period when most of them came into being ; notable artists who distinguished themselves in this class of work being Hokusai and his pupils, of whom Hokkei and Gakutei were the most prolific and successful, while Shunman also calls for mention. Most of the other designers of colour-prints, however, indulged in this luxury, either on their own account or when commissioned by patrons ; and a very considerable number are signed by men - probably amateurs or comparatively unknown painters - who had no definite connexion with the Ukiyoye School. The circumstances attending the production of surimono account for their rarity. Only small editions could have been made ; and though a collector may easily expect to gather a fair number of specimens, it will be found extremely difficult to obtain particular examples. Hiroshige did not altogether neglect this form of colour-print. Mr. Happer, after the most diligent search, was only able to account for "less than ten"; but to this small number we are able to add to a very limited extent.
In The Far East of December 20, 1913, he describes in detail and illustrates six surimono by Hiroshige I in his possession. Five of these are what he conveniently terms "abbreviated calendars," that is, they give a list of the long (dai) and short (sho) months, of 30 and 29 days each respectively, into which the old Japanese year was divided. Mr. Happer points out that, as the allocation of the dai and sho months varied in different years, some sort of guide was necessary - thus the second month of the year was dai in 1844 and sho in 1846. Each of these prints is something of the nature of the puzzle pictures which have been popular in recent years in this country, the numerals indicating the category to which the various months belonged being ingeniously concealed in the design. It also frequently occurs that the year of the zodiacal cycle is indicated in the design of surimono, either directly by the introduction of the appropriate animal, or by way of allusion. Hiroshige has adopted this device in each of these cases, as will be seen from the descriptions in the catalogue (page 105). They can be certainly identified as having been made for the years 1841 (Ox), 1844 (Dragon), 1845 (Snake), 1846 (Horse), and 1847 (Sheep). To these we can add examples in the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum for the years 1849 (Cock), 1851 (Boar), and 1858 (Horse) ; as well as a further specimen signed Ni sei (Second) Hiroshige, for the year of the Sheep, viz. 1859. The distribution of dates over this period suggests that Hiroshige made one of these calendar-surimono for each year, as a regular practice ; and probably left either a design or an uncompleted commission which, for one year at all events, was carried out by his principal pupil. The execution of the latter is inferior to that of the undoubted work of the master ; the signature corresponds closely to that on the extra print signed "Second Hiroshige" in "The Hundred Views of Yedo." The seal is "Ryusai."
In addition to the calendar-surimono, we have notes of a few others. The Memorial Exhibition contained two only, dated respectively 1820 and 1823 ; the former a commission from the great actor Ichikawa Danjiuro. Mr. Happer reproduces in the article previously mentioned a finely drawn print of which the subject is a couple of horses and autumn grass, with a charming poem suggesting that the waving of the susuki grasses in flower, like the beckoning of graceful slender hands, summons the prancing colts at pasture on the moor. The Victoria and Albert Museum also contains an undated surimono of rather unusual proportions, representing water-plants and a water-spider, signed "Ryusai " and with the seal "Hiroshige," which is too good to be the work of the pupil ; and in Messrs. Sotheby's sale of January 29, 1923, two more were catalogued, one of which is the most elaborate that has yet come to our notice, and is also the only one of which we have been able to note two examples. This is of such interest as to call for detailed description. It represents the Goddess Benten seated, clad in rich robes and with a remarkable head-dress in which a torii is conspicuous. In her left hand she holds the sacred jewel that she is about to place on a pictorial diagram, divided into compartments each of which has one of the emblems of good luck. On the other side of the diagram is a seated child dressed in the Chinese manner, waiting, evidently, for the goddess to reveal the fortune of the New Year by putting the jewel on one of the emblems. On the outside of the diagram are the characters Sugoroku, the name of the game so popular still with the Japanese; and the whole is evidently a symbolical treatment of this subject. The title is "The Sugoroku of Good Fortune." It is signed by Hiroshige with the circular script seal of the Utagawa. The signature is in one of his earliest styles; and the prominence given to Benten in the design suggests that it was made either for the year of the Dragon or that (the next in succession of the Japanese cycle) of the Serpent. Benten is often represented with the Dragon ; but in some localities she is particularly associated with the Serpent ; and it is on the day of the Serpent specially that her temples are visited. It is probable, therefore, that this surimono was made for the year either of the Dragon or of the Serpent ; and the torii suggests a choice of the latter, perhaps with reference to the famous temple of Enoshima, on the island which she is said to have raised from the waves in the sixth century. This, taking into account the style of the signature, would mean that the print was made either in 1821 or 1833. The former is too soon for the Utagawa seal to have been used ; and we may therefore accept the latter, particularly as it was the first year of a sexagenary cycle also indicated by the Serpent.
Hiroshige also made a set of prints in surimono style, "put on sale," says the Memorial Catalogue, "in the form of a roll consisting of 12 sheets to be used for writing letters. Almost all of these prints on letter paper were used by nobles and dignitaries and men of taste ; and, consequently, there remain very few of them now." Each is oblong, and measures 7½ by 20 inches. There is no publisher's mark, but the blocks were in existence at the time of the exhibition and showed them to have been issued by the Wakasaya. The 12 prints consist of views of the following places : Giotoku, Tamagawa, Gotenyama, Matsudo, Nakagawaguchi, Susaki, Koganei, Kaianji, Yuhigaoka, Azuma, Takata, Hagidera.
Mr. Happer has also described, in a recent number of The Far East, a class of prints of the Tokaido which have considerable personal interest ; these are small, 5½ by 3½ inches only, in size ; and each has a design by Hiroshige, with a little landscape in a fanshaped compartment, appropriate emblems of the various stations, etc. They were made as Juda, the cards used by pilgrims to be affixed to some part of the shrine or temple visited by them ; and it appears that Hiroshige himself - an inveterate wanderer - belonged to a "Pilgrims' Club," the Hakkaku Kai, in a roll of members of which is his nom de plume as a poet, Ichiryusai Utashige. The prints are of the date 1841 ; and it is curious to observe that each has an advertisement "Sen jo ko" of a "Fairy Perfume" sold by a well-known dealer, Sakamoto, who seems also to have belonged to the club. The same advertisement has been noted on other Tokaido prints ; so it may be assumed that Hiroshige was not averse to a commercial transaction of a sort with which we are familiar. Though not surimono, these were prints made for special occasions and are therefore noted here.
The Victoria and Albert Museum also possesses original designs by Hiroshige I for surimono, of unquestionable authenticity and belonging to his best period, representing two tortoises in a stream with water-weeds and having the Utagawa seal as well as the usual signature, hydrangea blossom and dragon-fly (signed "Ichiryusai Hiroshige" and with the "Hiro" seal) and Shukaido flower and grasshopper. These themes were favourites with the artist - they occur on fans, as well as in tanzaku form and in his drawingbook for children (see page 112). As studies from Nature it is difficult to praise them too highly. The suggestion of form, of colour, of movement and natural life - it is little more than suggestion - is perfect ; and the impression of truth and beauty is conveyed to the beholder more surely and more completely than could have been effected by the most laborious manipulation of the artist's tools.
CATALOGUE OF SURIMONO
1. The Famous Actor Ichikawa Danjiuro on the Stage at the New Year. Dated Bunsei, 3rd Year (A.D. 1820). Memorial Cat. 7
2. A Watch. Dated Bunsei, 6th Year (A.D. 1823). Memorial Cat. 8.
3. Benten playing at Sugoroku with a child. Signed, Hiroshige. Seal, Utagawa ring.
4. Two horses and susuki grass. Signed Tanomareta (by request) Hiroshige. Poem (Uta) signed Emma.
Aki no no no
Maneku obana ni mura garite
Isami tachi taru
Maki no waka goma.
Flowers of the grass
Beckon with graceful, slender hands
The dancing colts
That range over the autumn moor.
Probably for Horse Year, 1846. Happer, "The Far East," pl. VI.
5. A courtesan passing the Kadomatsu (young pines before the house door)
New Year Parade. Signed, Hiroshige. Seal, Mimasu (?).
Note :-The above, described as from a set with a red sign No-ichi, in Messrs.
Sotheby's Sale of 29th January, 1923
6. Arrow-head leaves and blossom with a water-spider ; and poems by many poets. Signed, Ryusai. Seal, Hiroshige. 7¾ x 11½ inches.
7. An ox laden with bundles of fire-wood, on which is seated a peasant
smoking a pipe ; and plum tree in blossom. Signed, Hiroshige.
For Ox Year, 1841. Dai numerals on tree - Uru, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11.
Sho, on ground and representing grass, 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 12.
Happer, "The Far East," pl. III.
8. A pair of dragons rising from the waves. Signed, Hiroshige. Seal,
Ichiryusai. For Dragon Year, 1844. Dai, on right dragon, 1, 2, 4, 6, 8,
Sho, on left dragon, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11.
Happer, ibid., pl. IV.
9. A garden, with pine and plum trees, thatched pavilion and rising
sun seen beyond the gate. Signed, Mitoshi Hiroshige. Seal, Ichiryusai.
For Snake Year, 1845.
Dai, on roof, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11.
Sho, on doors, 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 12.
Happer, ibid., pl. I.
20. Fuji seen, rising above the clouds, between two overhanging peaks,
crowned with pine trees ; between them is a man leading a horse along
the road on the left of a river. On the right bank, beyond the cliff,
are the roofs of a village among trees.
Signed, Uma no sho haru Hiroshige. Seal, Ichiryusai.
For Horse Year, 1846. Numerals are on tree trunks, Dai, on right, 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11.
Sho, on left, 2, 4,
Uru, 5, 8, 10, 12.
The 5 seems plainly visible on both sides - apparently an error of the artist.
Happer, "The Far East," pl. V.
11. The Ship of Good Fortune (takara-bune), a spit of land with pine
trees, sails of distant boats, with Fuji and the Rising Sun. Signed, Hitsuji
toshi Hiroshige. Seal, Ko kwa Shi Riaku Reki.
For Sheep Year, 1847.
Dai, forming the character Takara on sail of ship, 1, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12.
Sho, forming distant sails, 2, 4, 5, 8, 12.
Happer, ibid., pl. II.
12. Young Girl holding a Yema (temple picture), with cock and hen as
a votive offering - standing under a plum tree in blossom.
Signed, Moto me ni o dzu (special order) Hiroshige. Seal, Ryusai.
For Cock Year, 1849.
Dai, on Cock, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12.
Sho, on hen, 1, 6, 8, 10, 11, the frame of the picture forming 4.
13. Nitta-no Yoshiro killing the Wild Boar at the foot of Fuji, and
a camp enclosure.
Signed, Moto me ni o dzu Hiroshige. Seal, Ryusai.
For Boar Year, 1851.
Dai, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10 12.
Sho, 1, 4, 6, 9, 11.
The 7 is in a separate circle to right.
14. Yama Uba carrying bendai (New Year's ornament for good luck) and
Kintoki on a hobby-horse. Signed, Moto me ni o dzu Hiroshige. (No seal.)
Dai, on red label, 2, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12.
Sho, blue label, 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10.
Note :-The poems on the last three are signed Gio-getsu-ken Ura-bune.
15. Oiran, with Ram on her kimono, walking towards the gate of the Yoshiwara
in the season of cherry-blossom. Signed, Ni sei (second) Hiroshige. Seal,
For Sheep Year, 1859.
Dai, on right label hanging on cherry-tree, 1, 3, 7, 9, 11, 12.
Sho, on left label, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10.