Sunday, June 25, 2017

19th and 20th Century Prints and Paintings of Sumida River Bridges: Ryogoku Bridge (2)

The Ryogoku Bridge is linked to the history of Japan. The Tokugawa Shogunate relocated to Edo (what is now Tokyo) in 1603. The Tokugawa rulers were so concerned about being attacked that they prevented bridges from being built across the Sumida River (except for the Senju Bridge upstream of the capital). However, a fire in 1657 destroyed Edo and killed thousands of people who were unable to get across the river to escape the inferno. The Shogun then allowed the Ryogoku Bridge to be built.
The human figure plays a large role in the prints and paintings of the Ryogoku Bridge. In the woodblock print from 1796 (shown above) the ukioy-e artist Kitagawa Utamaro shows his skill at drawing elegant people with the Ryogoku Bridge behind them almost an afterthought. Note how the Ryogoku Bridge always seems to be crowded. Perhaps the drawing was made in the evening when people congregated on the bridge to enjoy the cool breeze.
The print above is entitled 'Breezes at Ryogoku' and was made by Kikugawa Eizan around 1810. It is another example of the ukioy-e style that emphasizes elegant people in front of a landscape. The print was from the series 'Eight Views of Famous Places in the Eastern Capital. 
In the print by Hokusai shown above (from 1814) the Ryogoku Bridge is crowded with people enjoying a fireworks display on the river. Note how Japanese woodblock prints often include painted details beside the images produced by the woodblock. Hokusai's print was the inspiration for the opening scene in the recent film 'Miss Hokusai,' which examined the artist's life from his daughter's point of view. In the movie we first meet his daughter walking across the Ryogoku Bridge. The filmmakers made many drawings based on Hokusai's print to provide a realistic portrayal of what it was like to walk across the bridge.
Perhaps the filmmakers also referred to the print above, that was also made in 1814 by Shotei Hokuju and shows what it would have been like to step onto the deck of the old Ryogoku Bridge. Note the many shops, theaters, and print sellers at the foot of the bridge. 
The painting above was made by Hiroshige II around 1860. When an artist is successful they attract other artists who become part of a school based on the artist's name. Hiroshige II was a student of the school of Hiroshige and continued in his master's style after the original Hiroshige's passing. This painting was one of two scrolls showing the seasons summer and spring. Two women are seated at the landing for the Ryogoku Bridge under a willow tree. The bridge is in the middle ground and Mt Fuji is in the background.
We previously discussed the woodblock artist Kiyochika with his realistic style of representation borrowed from Western artists. This back and forth between Japan and the West invigorated the art of both cultures. This print from 1875 shows the bridge from the eastern shore where hundreds of stakes were planted to prevent erosion of the riverbanks. Note the bridge now has haunches below the deck to help support the superstructure.
The Ryogoku Bridge was rebuilt many times as a result of damage from flood, fire, and age. The photo above was taken at about the same time as the Kiyochika's print and was the last wooden bridge built at this site before it was replaced by a steel truss.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

19th and 20th Century Prints and Paintings of Sumida River Bridges: Ryogoku Bridge (1)

(35.694, 139.789) Ryogoku Bridge
Last week we looked at paintings of Thames River bridges and so I thought this week we could look at paintings and woodblock prints of Sumida River Bridges. However, there were so many pictures of the Ryogoku Bridge that I decided to make a blog just about that bridge. A bridge has stood in the Ryogoku neighborhood (a little north of the Imperial Palace) since 1650.

The first work (shown above) is by the famous woodblock artist Katsuhika Hokusai of the Ryogoku Bridge over the Sumidagawa, which was painted in 1805. This is a fairly typical trestle style of timber bridge that was built in the 18th century in Japan.

Working a little before Hokusai was Utagawa Toyohiro. He made many prints of Ryogoku Bridge including the print below of 'Evening Glow at Ryogoku' from 1804. Note how calm and civilized the Sumidagawa looks in Hokusai's painting and how wild it looks in Toyohiro's print.
Ando Hiroshige also made many prints of the Ryogoku Bridge including the print below of 'Fireworks at Ryoguku' (1856) from his monograph "100 Views of Edo.' Tokyo was hot and muggy during the summer and the Ryogoku Bridge became a popular place to enjoy the cool evenings. Firework displays were a popular diversion on the bridge until concerns about fires restricted the display to a single evening.
The concern with fire turned out to be justified when the Ryogoku Bridge burned down in a fire on January 26, 1881. The fire was depicted in the woodblock print (shown below) by Kobayashi Kiyochika. Kiyochika was a very interesting artist who borrowed Western-style techniques of light and shade in his prints. He took the place of a news photographer, recording his impressions of important battles and other events in drawings and woodblock prints. Kiyochika is credited with bringing Japanese art into the modern era.
The fire-damaged Ryogoku Bridge was replaced by a three span steel Parker truss in 1904. That bridge was destroyed in the Great Tokyo Earthquake of 1923 and replaced with the current steel girder bridge in 1932. A print of the new bridge was made in 1936 by the French artist Noel Nouet.
I took a photograph of the Ryogoku Bridge (while riding on a bus) in 1992.  The bridge looks remarkably similar to the earlier woodblock print.



Sunday, June 11, 2017

19th and 20th Century Paintings of Thames River Bridges

Thames River Bridges
Artists have sought inspiration from the Thames River and its bridges for hundreds of years. However, beginning in the 19th century the atmosphere and the light (and human emotions) became the main subject of these 'bridge' paintings.

In a painting by J.W.M. Turner from 1835 shown above, the Waterloo Bridge can barely be seen due to the thick smoke and haze that shrouds the river. Turner excelled at these paintings of light reflected by water and obscured by clouds.

Artists from other nations also sought inspiration on the banks of the Thames. The American artist James Whistler gave his paintings musical names to emphasize the compositional aspects of paintings such as his 'Nocturne: Blue and Gold' (for the Old Battersea Bridge) from 1875.
At the same time that Whistler was painting the Battersea Bridge, impressionists such as Claude Monet were painting the nearby Westminster Bridge (shown below).
The American impressionist Winslow Homer made a watercolor of the same bridge in 1881 (shown below).
Just a few minutes downstream is the Charing Cross (also called the Hungerford) Bridge. Another impressionist, Camille Pissarro made a painting of this bridge in 1890 (shown below).
Starting in 1900 Monet did a whole series of paintings of the Charing Cross (Hungerford) Bridge wreathed in fog (shown below).
A few years after Monet, the Fauve artist Andre Derain made his own series of paintings of the Charing Cross (Hungerford) Bridge in bright colors (shown below).
A photo I took of the Charing Cross (Hungerford) Bridge (in 1990) is shown below. However, in 2002 narrow white pedestrian bridges were built on each side of the Hungerford Bridge, altering its appearance.
There are several websites that feature paintings of Thames River (and other) bridges including an excellent site by Poul Webb. I may devote a future blog to some of the other rivers and their bridges that have attracted artists.