My Highlights from the IFPDA Print Fair
signed Keisei Eisen ga, with censor's seal kiwame, and publisher's mark of Tsutaya Kichizo (Koeido), ca. late 1830s
oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 9 5/8 in., 36.6 by 24.5 cm
This print is from an untitled series of beauties paired with landscapes from the classic theme: Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido (Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi). Here a weary traveler takes a break, resting casually against her large bundles. She wipes her hand across her forehead, and looks down at crumpled up letter at her feet. In the upper half of the composition divided by a stylized cloud there is a view of the Nihon embankment- the famous last leg of the journey to the pleasure quarters at Yoshiwara, and in the distance a clear view of Mount Fuji.
This series is stylistically very similar to an early bijin Tokaido series by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III, 1787-1865) which was a joint publication issued by Sanoya Kihei and Moriya Jihei in circa 1833. The Kunisada series shared the same title as the innovative landscape series by the young Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido (the so called 'Hoeido Tokaido'), and was begun while the landscape series was in mid-production by the publishers Hoeido and Tsuruya Kiemon. Marks theorizes that perhaps Kunisada was asked by Hiroshige's publishers, or decided on his own, to support his Utagawa school brethren by generating interest in the Hoeido Tokaido with a bijin series that directly linked the compositions to the landscape series. Indeed many, but not all of the Kunisada prints have clear references to Hiroshige's prints. This series by Eisen, who was not a part of the Utagawa school, was evidentially inspired by the success of Kunisada's chuban series, and utilizes the exact same format, a beauty in the lower half, and a Tokaido landscape in the upper half, separated by a stylized cloud. Perhaps it speaks to the impact of the sudden popularity of landscape prints in the 1830s that Eisen, an artist of prodigious output and success, felt compelled to produce a series which seems to be a pastiche of Kunisada's style. He may have been inspired in part by the work he had been doing with Hiroshige on their collaborative series, Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido (Kiso Kaido Rokujuku Tsugi), to which he contributed twenty-three designs.
Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art
Publisher: Tsutaya Kichizo (Koeido)
Chiba City Museum of Art, Keisai Eisen: Artist of the Floating World, 2012, pp. 250-253 (series), p. 288, cat. no. 200-15
Andreas Marks, Kunisada's Tokaido, Riddles in Japanese Woodblock Prints, 2013, pp. 59-84
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.252629
Japanese, 1790-1848, Edo, Japan, based in Edo, Japan