Bottom: Kabuki Actor Onoe Kikugoro as Shirai Gonpachi by Toyokuni III.
About the artist
During the mid-19th century, ukiyo-e artistsHiroshige and Toyokuni III (aka Kunisada) collaborated on as many as eight series. In each, the designs highlight the specialty of each master artist—Hiroshige's poetry of landscape and Toyokuni III's spirit of the Kabuki stage. Some sources suggest that the collaborative format served as a loophole in increasingly stringent government censorship—By releasing the series within the landscape genre, Toyokuni III could sidestep the edicts against Kabuki actor prints. Others suggest that these designs allowed artistic schools to capitalize on popular artists and provide new print formats for an eager Edo-period audience. After Hiroshige's death, Toyokuni III carried on the collaborative spirit with Hiroshige II.
The series The 53 Stations by Two Brushes (Sohitsu gojusan tsugi no uchi) is one example of Hiroshige and Toyokuni III's collaboration. Published by Maruya Kyushiro between 1854 and 1857, the series plays on the popular theme of the Tokaido Road, the artery of Edo-period culture that connected the feudal capital of Edo and the imperial capital of Kyoto. Each design comes to life with Kabuki allusions, familiar legends, and local spirit through two talented brushes—Toyokuni III designed the foreground, capturing the figures in each composition, while Hiroshige completed the landscape in the background (with the exception of "Eijiri," where the landscape in in the foreground). Each print is signed by both artists.
Other collaborations between Hiroshige and Toyokuni III include Fashionable Genji (1853), A Selection of Ten Flowers Now in Full Bloom (1854-1858), Twin-brush Journey to the Seven Hot Springs (1854), 36 Views of the Eastern Capital (1854), and Famous Restaurants of the Eastern Capital (1852-1853). They also collaborated with Kuniyoshi on Ogura Imitation of One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets (c.1845-1848) and 53 Pairings for the Tokaido Road (c.1845-46).