Japanese Prints from the Baur Foundation

13 February 2014 - 6 April 2014


During the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), five major highways departed from the centre of the city of Edo (modern Tokyo) and headed for the west and north of Japan. The most famous and widely-travelled of these was the Tôkaidô, following the sea coast before turning inland to the old imperial capital, Kyoto, with a branch road continuing to the port city of Osaka. Fifty-three post-stations were established along its 500 kilometre length, where the weary traveller could eat and rest, spend the night, buy souvenirs, and, if need be, hire porters or change horses. All year round and in all weather, these roads were used by thousands of travellers from different social backgrounds, from the great feudal lords returning to their domains in the provinces, to merchants and humble pilgrims. The details of daily life along the road, its famous sights, the tea houses, inns and speciality shops for which each of the stations was famous, all of these would become the subject of woodblocks of prints during the 19th century.

Though illustrated by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) as early as 1804, the Tôkaidô would become particularly successful with the publication in 1833 of the well-known series by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) entitled Fifty-three Stations of the Tôkaidô. The fascination which this subject would exert on the public, still in evidence today, can be measured by the huge number of editions and reprints which have been published ever since. Hiroshige himself is credited with no less than twenty-two series bearing this title, and most of the great artists of the period would produce their own “Tôkaidô”.

This exhibition presents a selection of prints from the collections of the Baur Foundation, completed by loans from the Cabinet d’arts graphiques in Geneva, as well as by late 19th-century photographs from the Musée Guimet d’arts asiatiques in Paris. In addition to the Tôkaidô, represented by examples from several different editions by Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), the other highways are also shown, in particular the Kisokaidô road linking Edo with Kyôto through the high mountain ranges in the centre of the country.