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,
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
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
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
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
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
Ichiryusai Hiroshige and with the
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.
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.
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.