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The travel diaries of Utagawa Hiroshige

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"The Sanjo Bridge in Kyoto", by Utagawa Hiroshige. Jerzy Leskowic Foundation

All travelers who have crisscrossed Japan know this route, a Japanese equivalent of the 66 American. Linking Tokyo to Kyoto, the axis, which runs along the eastern coast of Honshu Island, offers unforgettable views over some 500 km – Odawara, Hakone, Mishima, Nissaka, Nakayama, Iseâ € | Opened at the time of the Kamakura (1185-1333), this road, then the most important commercially and politically, took a particular dimension in the Edo era (1603-1868), the lords (daimyo) Being obliged to perform every two years with their court this journey from the residence of the shogun (supreme military chief) to that of the emperor.

Today, you can connect the two cities in two and a half hours aboard a high-speed train, the Shinkansen. In the XIXe In the last century, the plague lasted two weeks, on foot, on horseback or in palanquin. The artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) made it in the wake of the Tokugawa Ienari shogun in 1830, crunching in small notebooks the landscapes and scenes of daily life observed over the years. © riple. A route punctuated by 53 remote relay stages of about 8 km where the traveler could rest and refuel. These sketches gave rise to a series of prints (ukiyo-e) in the format 25 x 36 cm titled On the road to Tokaido, which knew an immense success. Other artists, blossoming the good vein, have produced similar works, but the Hiroshige series remains the most famous – its workshop produced some 10,000 copies .

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It is one of these, published in 1833-1834 and extraordinarily well preserved, from the collection of Jerzy Leskowicz, presented by the Guimet Museum of Asian Arts in Paris. The visitor discovers it by making the tour of the rotunda of the second floor, where the 53 prints – to which are added two works representing the starting point of the course, the Nihonbashi Bridge in Tokyo, and the point of arrival, the Sanjo Bridge in Kyoto – are on display.

We follow their adventures of printmaking like so many sketches

One is first struck by the splendor of the colors and in particular Prussian blue (called blue Japan of Berlin). Obtained chemically, imported from Holland, it enters the palette of Japanese artists (including Hokusai) around 1830, replacing the indigo that withstood the light or the lapis lazuli, from Afghanistan and out of price. Hiroshige uses it abundantly to give the skies, lakes, seas and streams a hue as intense as luminous. Light fog, sunrise on Mount Fuji, moonlight: the painter marries white, pink and orange to create beautiful light effects.