Monet and Manet were not alone among modern French artists in painting under the influence of Japanese woodcut prints.
All the Impressionists had developed a taste for their stylized, comic-book simplicity.
None more so than Edgar Degas, whose paintings owe much to the images produced by the Ukiyo-e artists.
He was particularly admiring of Hiroshige, an artist who made hundreds of prints, including a series that featured the fifty-three stations on the 290-mile highway between Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto.
One of these works, Station of Otsu (c.1848–9) (see below), shows an everyday scene of travellers going about their business, buying goods from market stalls and walking about carrying heavy bags on their backs in readiness for the onward journey.
None of which is remarkable. But the viewpoint and composition are noteworthy.
Hiroshige has taken a bird’s-eye view of the action, as if seen through a CCTV camera placed on top of a high building.
The voyeuristic effect of the aerial position is accentuated by the structure of the image, which he has arranged along a diagonal line, running from the bottom left-hand corner of the picture to top right, creating a sense of motion that takes the eye beyond the frame to a single, imaginary vanishing point.
To add yet more dynamism to the picture, Hiroshige has aggressively cropped the action that is taking place in the foreground, a favourite technique of the
Ukiyo-e artists. The result is an image that makes you, the viewer, feel strangely present – complicit even.
Utagawa Hiroshige, Station of Otsu, c.1848–9
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.