Andō Hiroshige
Evening Rain of Karasaki

Signed: Hiroshige ga; Publisher’s seal: Eikyūdō (Yamamotoya Heikichi); ōban, yoko-e, 22.3 x 34.8 cm; nishiki-e with fukibokashi and musenzuri

From the series “Eight Views of Ōmi”. The views in this series are based on a “travel guide” from the same period. The style of the landscapes is said to have been inspired by the literary painter Tani Bunchō (1763–1840). All eight prints in this series are labelled with the series title in a red box and the corresponding classical waka in a cloud-framed shikishi field. Hiroshige’s daring design of the enormous pine tree and the dense curtain of rain is likely to have fascinated both his contemporaries and early Western collectors.

F. Tikotin (March 1968)
Riese Collection #145

One can only imagine what print collectors may have felt when they saw Hiroshige’s stratling design of the Karasaki Pine for the first time. We are accustomed to according it its place among the masterpieces of the Japanese print, but familiarity has spoiled for us something of its freshness. To Japanese in the 1830s it must have seemed as startling as a thunderclap. And here we meet again the paradox that we may have mentioned in discussing Hiroshige’s print of the evening moon at Ryogoku: that a print can be at once serene and revolutionary, audacious yet quiet as an evening rain.

Collectors have fought many verbal battles over the Karasaki Pine seeking to prove that their impression was earlier or finer than any others. Since no two impressions are printed entirely the same, and since the grey eminence of the pine was inked as variously as a Whistler etching or a monotype, there is bound to be dissension among those who prefer the pine dark above, dark below, or dark all the way around, as one finds it on occasional impressions.

The Riese impression is very fine, sharp and clear, and extremely early, and it is the branches on the bottom that are dark. Probably this was the effect that was intended, because the higher branches, further away from the viewer, would tend to become lost in the rain and darkness, to fade away into the grey of the sky like the faint mountains in the distance. The impression reproduced in colour in Ukiyoe Taikei, Vol. 11, no. 28, beautiful as it is in its effect, is certainly later than the Riese impression; the blue block of the water is off-register on the right, the poles holding up the tree at the left are clogged with blue, and some of the other poles are worn and broken. On the other hand, the Tōkyō National Museum impression (Kikuchi 1283) is dark on the top and seems very early and very fine. In the end, one’s preference for this print, more than any other picture in the series, becomes a matter of taste, and even though one might prefer the Riese impression to be a little gentler in its transition from dark to lighter grey, to carry the dark to the tops of the highest poles, perhaps, there is no doubt that it is an extremely fine, and beautiful impression presenting the poetry that Hiroshige at his best conveys.

Impressions with the tree dark at the bottom are reproduced in Stern, Master Prints of Japan, pl. 149; Ukiyo-e Art, No. 18, no. 382; and Vignier and Inada, Toyokuni, Hiroshige, no. 233, pl. LXI. Impressions with the tree dark above are reproduced in Kikuchi 1283; Ukiyo-e Taikei vol. 11, no. 28; Suzuki 317; Popper sale catalogue (Sotheby’s Parke Bernet, New York, 5 October 1972, no. 287). Impressions with the tree printed dark all the way around, which seem certainly later than the others are reproduced in Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Ukiyo-e, no. 410, and in the Scheiwe catalogue, no. 470.