Ramsey Library Exhibits

Hiroshige: "Fifty-Three Stages on the Tokaido Highway"

On display in Ramsey Library, January 1998.


The world-famous woodblock prints of Japan belong to a type of art known as ukiyo-e, "pictures of the floating world." The paintings of the ukiyo-e artists were designed to please the lower classes and were reproduced in quantity for popular consumption. The artist, the engraver, and the print maker all played a vital role in the quality of the final print.


Hiroshige was the last of the great ukiyo-e masters. His landscapes gave the common people views of their country, which most would never have the opportunity to see for themselves. A trip made in 1832, along the Tokaido Highway from Edo to Kyoto, inspired this series of pictures that suddenly and firmly established the young Hiroshige's fame as a landscape artist.


The Tokaido, the most highly traveled route in Japan, led along the Pacific coast. In several places mountains suddenly meet ocean to form some of the most magnificent scenery in the world. Built by the government to facilitate administration, the road was always kept in good repair, and stopping places or "stages" were maintained at fifty-three points along the way.

If Hiroshige had never painted again after the completion of the Tokaido album, he would still be remembered as a major artist. Throughout his incredibly productive lifetime, he is believed to have created more than five thousand different color designs. His work was so popular because of its vitality and realism, elements that were unusual in Japanese art before his time. His success was primarily due to his ability to be true to nature while at the same time creating a magnificent design.

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