UVaM - University of Virginia Art Museum


Utagawa Hiroshige
Japanese, 1797-1858
Night Scene at Matsuchiyama, Sanya Canal from the series One Hundred Views of Edo, 1857
Color woodblock print,
11 x 9 1/4 inches
Museum Purchase with funds from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the Robert Cross Bequest Fund,

Hiroshige may be the Japanese woodblock printmaker who has had the most influence and renown in the West, although many Japanese printmakers of the 18th and 19th centuries have had a vast influence on what came to be modern Western art. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism learned much from the bold color and design and anti-elitist "democratic" subject matter of these artists of "the floating world," the world of theater, courtesans, legend and earthy existence that demonstrated both the attractiveness and the watery instability of life from a point of view that, albeit influenced by Buddhism, lacked the dogmatism and arrogance of the art officially admired by a highly feudalistic regime. These "pictures of the floating world" (Ukiyo-e) were advertisements for those aspects of Edo (today's Tokyo) that appealed to commoners or even to aristocrats escaping from a narrow social structure. Hiroshige is one of the greatest landscape artists, although his work may be thought of as made to attract tourists. This suggestive yet confrontational night scene shows us the waterway that led to the notorious and beloved Yoshiwara entertainment district. Hiroshige, like Degas, often gives us dramatically enigmatic perspectives and cut-off designs. Here, the geisha, probably returning from an engagement, follows a glowing lantern seen at the edge of the viewer's left. Despite the geisha's profession, we are given a glimpse of a cherry tree with Shinto associations and a hill in the background that held a monastery. The blue water reflects the black sky. We experience both flesh and spirit, both loneliness and a dignified walk along "the floating world."