The Honolulu Museum of Art’s current exhibition Hiroshige‘s City: From Edo to Tokyo represents a collision of two titanic personalities. One is that of the woodblock print designer Utagawa Hiroshige (1797- 1858). Alongside Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Hiroshige is arguably one of the most famous artists in Japanese history. The images that he produced, including selections from the Eight Views of Ōmi (c. 1834) and the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō (c. 1833-1834) are iconic examples of Japanese landscape art. Their dynamic compositions, their brilliant use of color, and the sense of quiet grandeur that they radiate inspired the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) and his contemporaries to rebel against the academic conventions of European art. Ironically, Hiroshige also incorporated many of those conventions, such as the use of linear perspective and chiaroscuro, into his own prints. In this way, his work heralded the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when all aspects of Japanese society, including fine art, underwent a radically sudden process of westernization. Given Hiroshige‘s artistic brilliance and art historical significance, the Honolulu Museum of Art is proud to boast the largest collection of his prints in the world, the vast majority of which was donated by the author James Michener (1907-1997).
The other megalithic personality represented in Hiroshige’s City, and one that in many ways overshadows Hiroshige, is the artist’s hometown—the city of Edo. The series displayed here, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, was produced by Hiroshige in 1858 and completed by his student, Hiroshige II, the following year, after Hiroshige himself had died. And although the images in the series reflect places that the artist himself viewed in his final year, the vast variety of subjects—from natural vistas with no signs of human civilization to chaotic street scenes teeming with venders and consumers—enable us to order the prints in a way that reflects the gradual evolution of Edo city from its origins in the late 12th century until 1858. Of course, even after Hiroshige‘s series was completed, the city of Edo continued to grow and expand. In 1868, it was renamed Tokyo, and throughout the 20th century, it endured numerous catastrophes, including the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 and the firebombing of 1945 near the end of the Pacific War. Despite these hardships, today Tokyo thrives as the largest city in the world. To help us imagine how the metropolis will continue to develop, we have included works by two Japanese contemporary artists: the lithographer Motoda Hisaharu (b. 1973) and the video artist Yoshimura Ayako. Their haunting, thought-provoking visions of future Tokyo serve to remind us that the destiny of Japan’s capital, as well as that of Honolulu and other cities, now lies in our own hands.