If you know Japanese art, then you know Hiroshige. Along with Hokusai and Utamaro he created images that are instantly recognizable. In fact, say “Japanese art” to anyone and their mind will probably be populated with scenes from Hiroshige.
But most people have ever only seen his finished works, benefiting from his full powers of design and craftsmanship. Beautiful as it is, the woodblock print does not allow for much spontaneous creativity. Only here in “The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige” do we get a more intimate look at the master’s hand, seeing his brushstrokes and soft colors, the kind of sketches that he might have drawn from life, idly sitting on a riverbank watching people at work.
The sketchbooks are divided into two volumes, both of which fold out accordion-like in an older style of binding. Both books have twenty-five plates, with some small commentary on the works in the back. In the first volume, there is an introduction to Hiroshige and the collection, although anyone interested in his sketchbooks is probalby already familiar with Hiroshige.
The quality of this collection can not be overstated. It is perfect. Every effort was made in presentation, including an antiqued and yellowed paper stock used for the images that is different from the pure white of the introduction and notes. The images themselves are, of course, breathtaking. Each one is subtle and perfectly composed, like a poem in ink. People who only know Hiroshige by his bombastic color prints will be surprised to see this level of restraint.
This is definitely a collection for those who just want to look at the art. The comments on each work are very slight, and might even be nothing more than “A scene by the Sumido river”. The editor wanted the works to speak for themselves, and rightly so.