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.



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