This particular print is the best (in my opinion) print from Hiroshige’s posthumously-printed 36 Views of Mount Fuji series. It has expressive motion, vibrant colors, and depicts an incredible crashing over Mount Fuji – remind you something?
It should remind you of the famous print by the print master Hokusai: Great Wave off Kanagawa — from the series “36 Views of Mount Fuji“. The identical names for the series, and identical subject matter, was no mistake. Hokusai created his series a full 25-28 years before Hiroshige.
That’s not to say that Hiroshige was a slouch, around the same time as Hokusai’s famous series he was working on other famous works, such as his first interpretation of the Tokaido road, of particular fame is this print showing travelers running through the rain.
Hokusai was certainly far Hiroshige’s senior and it’s obvious that Hiroshige greatly respected his work. Doing another series with the same material and subject matter wasn’t really “thievery” or “copying” as we may expect in modern times – it was more of an homage. To draw a comparison, during this time in Edo (Tokyo) the Kabuki scene was very vibrant – that being said there was a relatively limited repertoire. Theatre-goers wanted to see and re-see their favorite plays, reinterpreted by their favorite actors. The same thing was happening here: The print-buying audience was assuredly clamoring for their new-favorite print designer, Hiroshige, to reinterpret a “classic” done by the old master.
Here is where the story takes a slight twist: This is actually Hiroshige’s second 36 Views of Mount Fuji series. His first series, printed in 1852 while he was still alive, is in a different format (half the size of the 1858-printed series and in a landscape format). The prints in the earlier series are just as interesting as the later series, however it never sold as well as the later one (for reasons unknown).
Interestingly the print posted here is actually the second reinterpretations of Hokusai’s great wave by Hiroshige, his first was: Rough Sea at Shichirigahama. Note the dramatically different style: You’re advancing along with the waves toward the mountain, their shape mimicking the mountain itself. It’s a rather exciting new look at the waves and really sets Hiroshige apart from Hokusai. I actually own this particular print (amusingly someone used the image of the print that I posted to Flickr on Wikipedia!).
One final note: The particular print image that was posted here appears to be from a copy that was on Wikipedia – but comes from some source that’s managed to crop off all the margins of the print. This is quite odd as the original includes wide margins and border around the print. Hiroshige did this in many of his prints, and intentionally so.
In case anyone is interested there is an original copy of this print up for sale at a reputable London-based dealer. It’ll likely set you back $10,000 or so.