Each of the prints in this set includes a poem associated with one of the six rivers in various parts of Japan that are named Tamagawa, or Jewel River. The theme of six beautiful rivers enjoyed great popularity in the nineteenth century, especially among ukiyo-e printmakers; earlier in his career, Hiroshige created a series on the theme in various formats. Remarkably, the groupings and postures of the figures in each of the prints nearly exactly echoes those found in a set of handscrolls by Sakai Ōho (1808– 1841), also in the Burke Collection.
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Title:Six Jewel Rivers from Various Provinces
Artist:Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, Tokyo (Edo) 1797–1858 Tokyo (Edo))
Period:Edo period (1615–1868)
Medium:Six woodblock prints; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:Image (each): 14 1/4 × 9 5/8 in. (36.2 × 24.4 cm) Mat (each): 22 13/16 × 15 9/16 in. (58 × 39.6 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
He is known affectionately as an "artist of rain, snow, and moon," and a "painter of blue," and his name, Hiroshige, is as familiar in the West as it is in Japan. The details of his life are here briefly recapitulated. Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) was born in the downtown section of Edo, the son of Ando Gen'emon, a low-ranking samurai who held a hereditary position in Edo's Fire Brigade. As a member of the samurai class, Hiroshige received early training in painting from a minor Kano-school artist named Okajima Rinsai (1791–1865). His parents died when he was twelve, and he inherited his father's position. About the same time, he attempted, unsuccessfully, to enter the atelier of the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni (1769–1825); he was accepted instead by Toyokuni's younger brother Toyohiro (1773–1828). He was given the artistic name Utagawa Hiroshige in 1812. Following in his teacher's footsteps, he first produced prints of women and actors.
Hiroshige's career as a printmaker can be traced fairly accurately through the changes he made in the style of his signature and in his artistic names, which he changed periodically; also useful as documentation are censors' seals, dates of publication, and publishers' names, often included in the margins of his prints. During the first years of his career, from 1818 to 1830, Hiroshige's signature sometimes includes the name "Ichiyūsai." He wrote "Hiroshige" during this period in kaisho (standard script), with all the strokes rendered evenly, in equal width. In 1823, he resigned from the Fire Brigade to concentrate on his artistic activities; his son inherited his position. About 1830, he changed the "yū" in "Ichiyūsai" from the character meaning "to wander" to the character meaning "hushed." Also during this time, he began to write the first letter of "Hiroshige" in a modified gyōsho (running script).
The Tōto meisho (Famous Views of Edo), a series of prints published about 1831, established Hiroshige as a major landscape artist. Shortly thereafter, in early 1832, he changed his acronym to "Ichiryūsai," perhaps to celebrate his success; the new name can be understood as "standing alone." He also used the name "Ryūsai" beginning about 1841. In 1833–34, he published his most successful landscape series, the Tōkaidō gojūsantsugi (Fifty-three Stations of Tōkaidō Road), surpassing in popularity his older rival Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Toward the end of the 1830s, he began to use a large character for "hiro" and a much smaller one for "shige," which was increasingly abbreviated into sōsho (grass writing), as on the prints seen here. The last phase of Hiroshige's career extends from 1848 to 1858, when he continued to publish landscape series and also collaborated with Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III, 1786–1864), who supplied the figures in Hiroshige's landscapes.
Beginning in the 1830s, Hiroshige executed a number of series on the Mu Tamagawa (Six Jewel Rivers) theme, using different formats: narrow and vertical, horizontal, fan-shaped, or circular. The present set, made the year before his death, is in a vertical ōban (large print) format. Each sheet, except the fourth, has a small round stamp in the upper margin. In the fourth sheet the seal is included within the picture, alongside the signature; it reads "tsuchinoto jūichi," meaning the eleventh month of the year that corresponds to 1833, 1845, or 1857. Another stamp, a round censor's seal, reads "Aratame." Also in the lower left margin of all six prints is the rectangular seal of the publisher Maruya Kyūshirō. All this points to the date 1857 for the print. Hiroshige's signature is written in the style of his late period.
Each of the six scenes bears the title of the set, Shokoku mu tamagawa (Six Jewel Rivers of Various Provinces), and the name of the individual river depicted. These are followed by a poem, identified by the author and the anthology in which it appears. The poems are identical to those quoted in Hiroshige's other Mu Tamagawa series, suggesting that in the poetic inscriptions Hiroshige followed the standard formula established by Harunobu.
This is not true of the compositions, which differ from set to set. In this 1857 version, Hiroshige crystallized the theme, reducing the number of figures and having them stand out from the landscapes, which seem almost like stage settings. Notably, the figure groupings as well as the postures of individuals are identical to those in the renditions of Sakai Ōho (cat.no. 138). The landscape settings are more compact but essentially they are vertical, narrow versions of Ōho's compositions. While Ōho's renditions may have been inspired by Hiroshige's earlier versions of the Mu Tamagawa, this set seems to have been modeled on Ōho's scrolls
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 For the life of Hiroshige, see Izzard 1983; and Link and Kobayashi Tadashi 1991.  I am grateful to Joan Mirviss for her help in interpreting this data.
Signature: Hiroshige ga
Marking: Aratame (censor's seal); rectangular publisher's seal of Maruya Kyushiro in lower left border of each print.
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
Murase, Miyeko, Il Kim, Shi-yee Liu, Gratia Williams Nakahashi, Stephanie Wada, Soyoung Lee, and David Sensabaugh. Art Through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Vol. 1, Japanese Paintings, Printed Works, Calligraphy. [New York]: Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, , pp. 396–397, cat. no. 494.
Carpenter, John T. The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018, p. 53, fig. 16 (detail).
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