Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hiroshige's "Sleeping Dragon Plum"

I guess I was looking for virtual warmth at the online Honolulu Academy of Arts, [71 degrees there today], when I came upon this wood block print of the "Sleeping Dragon Plum" at Kameido Garden by Hiroshige (1797-1858) from his One Hundred Views of Edo, now Tokyo.

What grabbed me was its perspective through the thick diagonal grey tree branch. Balancing it, though, is the wispier, vertical thinner branch with a few plum blossoms. The people, tiny blips in the background, are inconsequential, although still there. He could have removed them, but didn't.

Clearly, the old tree is more important than the transitory visitors to the garden. It seems Hiroshige wanted to capture a time when the delicate blossoms are just emerging, but not fully bloomed. Perhaps a late winter, early spring. The red sky seems ominous for rain or a storm and the bronze-green lawn is cold, not the chartreuse green of the warm spring.

I have no idea if I am correct. More research is warranted. The Brooklyn Museum Web Site has the full collection of the Edo prints online. It says the series is considered Hiroshige's masterpiece, offering celebrated sites in 19th century Edo not for their grandeur, per se, but for their contemplative aspects. He started the ambitious project in 1856 and died soon after during a cholera epidemic in 1858

The museum says the actual "Sleeping Dragon Plum" was the most famous tree in Edo, known for the purity of its double blossoms. The blossoms, according to an old guide book, the site says, were "so white when full in bloom as to drive off the darkness." Is the tree still in Tokyo? No, according to Fuji Arts ,the tree died in a flood in 1910; what remains is a roadside marker.

The Brooklyn museum classifies the print in the collection's Spring images. So perhaps the dingy days of winter were plaguing Hiroshige [as they are me] and he was hoping the tree would refresh him and a viewer with the hope of the sun's eventual return.

(As a footnote, Wikipedia points out Van Gogh made a painting of this print. At the time, at the end of the 19th century, Japanese prints were popular in Europe. His painting, though, feels different: the trees are more in bloom, so it seems more like spring at sunset . )

No comments:

Post a Comment