February 15, 2015

Hiroshige's Snowy Landscapes

 The Kiso Mountains in Snow, 1857; triptych of woodblock prints, ink and color on paper; each 14 1/4 x 9 3/4 in. 
All images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can see more Hiroshige snow prints 

Those of us in the Northeast are so tired of winter's cold and snow that I thought I'd use a "hair of the dog" remedy and spend some time looking at beautiful images of snow. Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) was one of Japan's great artists of Ukiyo-e. The grand triptych above was completed in the year before his death, showing that his power was not diminished with age. The monumental mountains glow in their snowy blanket. 

Evening Snow on Hira, Lake Biwa, ca. 1835; polychrome woodblock print, 8 27/32 x 13 23/32 in.

In winter there are still thoughts of spring, yet there's a desire to love the cold season. The poem inscribed on this print reads:
When the snow has ceased falling
The whitened peaks of Hira toward evening
Surpass in beauty the cherry blossoms. 

Snow on the Sumida River, ca.1835; polychrome woodblock print, 14 29/32 x 4 7/8 in.

Sparking flakes of snow descend on the landscape.

Kinryusan Temple at Asakusa, 1856; polychrome woodblock print, 14 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.

Hot red frames the white scene.

Evening Snow at Uchikawa, ca. 1836; polychrome woodblock print, 9 x 13 7/8 in. 

It seems that for Hiroshige, evening is the best time to observe the snowy landscape, since so many of his prints have evening in the title. Here is a translation of the poem in this print:
The pine trees are so deeply covered with snow
That there is no shelter under them.
The evening comes and the road to the harbor
Cannot be traced under the white snow.

Evening Snow at Kanbara, ca. 1833-34; polychrome woodblock print, 8 7/8 x 13 3/4 in.

Figure move through the snow with bent backs, umbrellas and hats, echoing the shapes of mountains and roofs, shielding them.

Asukayama in the Snow at Evening; 9 1/4 x 14 1/4 in. 

A poem by Gantantei adds tactility and delight to this image of snowcapped trees and weary travelers:
Snow falling on Asuka Hill
Is as fine as goose feathers
This evening.
A Wild Duck near a Snow-Laden Shore, ca. 1843; 14 7/8 x 6 3/4 in.

A intricately patterned duck floats alongside snow covered branches, is dusted by snowflakes.

Pheasant Among Snow-Laden Bamboo on Hillside, ca. 1840; polychrome woodblock print, 
10 3/8 x 7 1/4 in. 

To remind us to see beauty even in this oh-so-wintry winter, this is written:
Even more beautiful than the crested bird with his plumage like brocade, is the exquisite pattern of the fresh snow. 


  1. The snow so simplifies our surroundings
    When the water all evaporates
    I die of visual thirst

  2. As I looked at these beautiful images I thought of de Botton's thesis in his book, Art as Therapy, that we can receive an emotional benefit from art. We are winter-weary in the Northeast--there's probably 3+ feet of snow outside my house with a temp around 0 or in the negative F--and the images help me to see winter differently, with more acceptance. So I suppose this is the "hair of the dog." Thanks for the post!

    1. I'm glad you have gotten some pleasure from looking at more snow. We don't have as much snow on the ground up here, maybe around 2 feet, but the bitter cold has been wearying. Art can bring delight in the face of this.