Meisho-e means "pictures of famous places" in Japanese. Traditionally, these places include religious pilgrimage sites, scenic wonders, places linked with poetry or legends, and stop-overs along the great highways of Japan. Japanese painters had depicted famous sacred and scenic sites since the late ninth century, but it was during the Edo period (1615-1868) that meisho-e blossomed in a profusion of woodblock illustrated books and prints of the kind on display here.
During the Edo period -- a time of relative peace, increased prosperity and trade, crowded cities, and improved transportation -- many more people traveled than ever before. Prompted by piety, profit, or pleasure, their travels took them to many famous sites. In response to the great demand for information about these places and for keepsakes of the journey, publishers issued illustrated guidebooks known as meisho-zue or meisho-ki. Here black and white pictures illustrated the famous attractions of capital and countryside, from marketplace to mountainside. The great meisho-e woodblock prints grew out of these famous-sites programs and guidebooks.
This exhibition presents fine examples of teh master Hiroshige (1797-1858) working in the famous-sites genre. Selections from his series Eight Views of Mt. Biwa and Famous Places of Kyoto depict the beautiful scenery around the old capital, rich in poetic and historical associations, while prints from his Hundred Views of Edo show the wonders of the modern capital city (now Tokyo). His Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Highway depict scenes along the road that linked these two centers, whle two series of famous places in the provinces lead away to deep gorges and rocky coastlines. Traveling through time as well as space, Hiroshige takes us from morning to night, from spring to winter, and through cloudbursts, clearing skies, and snow as he records the famous places of Japan. These landscape prints not only were popular at home, but, achieving great influence abroad, also inspired Western artists such as Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) and James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). The woodblock image of Mt. Fuji, meanwhile, has become an emblem of the nation and culture of Japan.
Part II of this exhibition, in January, 1988, will feature Hiroshige's famous meisho-e series Fifty-Six Stations of the Tokaido or the Eastern Sea Road.