Andō Hiroshige
Bird on a Cherry Blossom Branch
c. 1833

Late edition; Signed: Hiroshige hitsu; artist’s seal: Ichiryūsai; ō-tanzaku, 37.1 x 17.0 cm; nishiki-e with fukibokshi

Breaking with conventions of ukiyo-e, Hiroshige allowed himself to be inspired by the painting of the Shijō school. This print is considered one of Hiroshige’s best designs for this format. In the early printing state, which is extremely rare, the work was elaborate and exacting, the print in the Riese Collection represents one of the later printing states, which may even be from the 1860s, providing evidence of the popularity of this image and the indestructibility of the printing blocks.

Collection Schraubstädter; F. Tikotin, La Tour de Peilz (January 1965)
Riese Collection #159

Hiroshige’s small tanzaku prints of birds and flowers were meant to be cut and used as decoration, but these large prints were meant to be appreciated separately and, in their earliest impressions, were printed with the utmost delicacy and refinement. In designing his great bird and flower prints, Hiroshige departed completely from the conventions of ukiyo-e, and turned for his compositions to the paintings of the Shijo School.

This print has been considered one of Hiroshige’s finest designs in this format. Early impressions, which are extremely rare, are printed with embossing and the most delicate rose shading on the cherry blossoms, and with very delicate gradations of colour on the rest of the print. The Chinese-style couplet on the earlier impressions, is followed by the red seal of Ryōshin, Hiroshige’s wife’s brother, a priest with a penchant for poetry and literature. A very fine impression of this first state of the print in the Yasusaburō Hara collection is reproduced in colour in Narazaki, Studies in Nature, no. 28. Another impression, in the Hiraki collection, is reproduced in Ukiyoe Taikei, Vol. 11, no. 92.

In later impressions, which are more common, the key block begins to show considerable wear and parts of characters in the Chinese poem, notably the dot to the right of the second character in the right line (shita) and the lower left extension of the second character from the bottom on the right (haru). On these impressions the seal after Ryōshin’s poem has been removed, and the flowers are printed without gradation or delicacy with two shades of pink. Impressions of this state are reproduced in Kikuchi, pl. 97 (in colour) and in Henri Vever, Sotheby’s, London, 26 March 1974, no. 377.

An even later state, with the left tip broken off the last character in the left line (kaze), the top of the pink block missing, and a new colour block for the band of colour at the top which is printed below the top of the rightmost upper leaf, is in the Riese collection. The late impression reproduced in colour by Kikuchi has a purple band of colour at the top, but uses a vegetable dye. The Riese impression seems to use an aniline pigment, certainly an inorganic dye, and the impression probably dates to the 1860s, testifying to the popularity of the print, and the indestructibility of the blocks.

The beautifully printed impression reproduced in Exner, Hiroshige, p. 19, is printed from entirely different blocks from any of the other impressions cited. Whether it is a modern facsimile, or a contemporary copy cannot be determined from the reproduction.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 129.