Utagawa Kunisada (Utagawa Toyokuni III
Memorial Portrait of Andō Hiroshige
1858, 9th month

Publisher’s seal: Shitaya Uo’ei (Uoya Eikichi); engraver’s seal: Yokogawa hori Take(jirō); shini-e, ōban, 36.0 x 24.3 cm; nishiki-e with ichimonji-bokashi

Hiroshige died of cholera in 1858. His facial features are executed here realistically and in a more differentiated manner than in most, usually stylized, ukiyo-e. This realism may be related to the long tradition of priests’ portraits in Japan, in which the features of the deceased were preserved true to life. At the top is a eulogy by his friend, the poet Tenmei Rōjin, in the form of a short biography. It is followed by Hiroshige’s own death poem and a “tearful” haiku by Kunisada.

R. G. Sawers (Ocotber 1967)
Riese Collection #105

The departed artist sits in a conventional pose, kneeling on a cushion, holding a rosary in his right hand. He had taken the tonsure before he died, so his head is shaved. He wears a grey gauze robe over his kimono which bears his diamond-shaped seal composed of the syllables for Hi and ro on his shoulder and sleeves. Above the artist and to his left is his death-bed poem:

Azumaji e
To the eastern land

fude o nokoshite
behind I leave my brush;

tabi no sora
to see great sights

nishi no mikuni o
in the Kingdom of the west

nadokoro o min
my destination!

The poem is a contrast between the eastern lands, or eastern roads like Tōkaidō that the artist must leave behind as he proceeds to the Western Paradise of Amida Buddha. The poem is written at the end of a long inscription by Tenmei Rōjin, “taking hold of his brush, brushing his dew-damp sleeve aside”, which mentions that Hiroshige was the pupil of Toyohiro, himself a pupil of Utagawa Toyoharu, that together with Kuniyoshi and Kunisada he was without peer as an artist, that he had always been fond of landscape and, beginning in 1856 designed a set of 100 views of Edo. Besides that, he illustrated the kyoka anthology Edo Meisho Zue, “Views of Famous Places in Edo”, which had been appearing monthly. His death, at the age of 62, is a great and much-lamented loss.

Tenmei Rōjin (1781-1861) began life as a carpenter, but turned to poetry early on. He was a close friend of Hiroshige, and lodged at Hiroshige’s house in the artist’s later years. He was the compiler of the kyōka anthology mentioned in the inscription, as well. The other work singled out in the inscription, the 100 Views of Edo, was a set of vertical landscapes which was issued by the publisher of the memorial portrait, Uoei. In fact, the memorial portrait was often included as a frontispiece to sets of the 100 Views, as may have been the case with this impression, judging from the binding holes on the left.

The seal after Toyokuni’s signature is usually read Chōen Ikku which I understand to mean “One wisp of long smoke”, an image of impermanence. The line before the artist’s signature, together with the signature, forms a 17-syllable haiku:

Omoiki ya
with tearful eyes

rakurui nagara
at thought of him

Toyokuni ga
by Toyokuni drawn.

The engraver of the print, Hori Take, was one of the finest and most sought-after engravers of his day. This is a particularly fine impression, showing less wear on the outline and colour blocks, for example, than the British Museum impression reproduced as the colour frontispiece to Strange, The Colour Prints of Hiroshige, a further difference being the purple band on the top of the print which in the British Museum impression is yellow.