Utagawa Hiroshige, Sudden Shower at Atake-Two Boats Ohashi

Utagawa Hiroshige, 1797-1858

One Hundred Famous Views of Edo: Sudden Shower at Atake [Two Boats Ohashi]
(Meisho Edo hyakkei: Ohashi Atake no yudachi)

signed Hiroshige ga, published by Sakanaya Eikichi, 1857 (seals trimmed)

oban tate-e 13 by 8 5/8 in., 33.1 by 21.9 cm

This design, formally titled Sudden Shower at Atake but more commonly known as Ohashi Bridge (The Great Bridge), is easily one of Hiroshige's most famous compositions, reproduced in such abundance it is one of the most recognizable of all 19th century Japanese woodblock prints. This version varies slightly from the classic composition with a different grey block for the distant tree line and with two silhouettes of boats at the far right-hand shore. As such, this state is commonly known as the 'Two Boats' Ohashi.

Unlike a variant impression or palette, which employs the same blocks but with different applications of color; this print is a variant state, with a change to the actual woodblocks. This variant state has long been recognized as an early impression of this print, indeed, as the first state of the blocks. The early impression is evidenced by the obvious crispness of the lines, the absence of a break along the left-hand edge of the title cartouche, and the most obvious tell: the well-known block-carver's error with the blank triangular section in the center of the pilings. Later impressions, including standard as well as 'deluxe' impressions show that blank area in the pilings remedied by a plug in the grey block.

As Ohashi Bridge is one of the most coveted designs, it is not surprising that much ink has been spilled in an effort to identify the earliest and best impressions. Oddly, there is often an assumption that both qualities, earliest and best, go hand in hand. In practice, however, this is an unnecessary limitation. As print designs went into actual production the publishers and their printers often made changes and adjustments which often improved the overall composition. And although some would prefer to suggest otherwise, deluxe impressions (frequently and misleadingly refered to as shozuri- or 'first printing') of any given series were not always the earliest commercially released versions of a design, but they are usually the best. This 'Two Boats Ohashi' is the earliest state of the design; while the later deluxe versions are the most elaborate: with dramatic dark bokashi storm clouds along the top margin and further bokashi along the bridge planks and in the water to the left of the bridge.

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