Friday, January 22, 2010

Book Review: "Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo"

"Ukiyo-e" paintings (浮世絵) are some of the most famous examples of Japanese art in the West, and one of the most well-known landscape artists within the "floating world" genre is Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重). One of his most lasting and successful projects was a part-fine art, part-commercial venture called "Meisho Edo Hyakkei" (名所江戸百景 One Hundred Famous Views of Edo). A series of woodblock prints that appeared beginning in 1856, it showed different views of Tokyo, then known as Edo, in a colorful and distinctive style that became an immediate hit at home and influenced Western artists abroad.

I ran across a book of these prints at Barnes and Noble last week, and was stunned to see how cheap it was. "Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo" is a nearly 300-page, coffee table-sized book (about 13.5"x10") and an amazing steal right now at only $9.99. Each of the 100 prints is given a two-page spread, with the print on its own page, and a detailed introduction leads the reader through the history behind Hiroshige and the One Hundred Famous Views.

An added bonus is the explanation of each of the images, set on the opposite pages, adding useful, interesting and sometimes amusing information (for example, the almost constant use of dawn or dusk clear skies was like a marketing tool for advertising the city as having good weather).

The only downside, I would say, is the small type size used for the main text (and if you look at the text pages, the left column only is in English, with the middle and right devoted to German and French, so don't buy it expecting the whole page to be English).

Overall, I would normally recommend this book for serious ukiyo-e or art fans, but at this price it's also an excellent chance for artists and folks with only a casual interest in Japan to discover the dynamic linework and color of Hiroshige's work, and step back into the unique world of old Edo.

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