Fujiwara no Tadahira
This print is one of twenty-seven designs published from Katsushika Hokusai’s last great print series, Hyakunin isshu uba ga etoki (One hundred poets, one verse each, as explained by the nurse). Publication of the ambitious series was terminated, probably due in part to the catastrophic economic declines for Edo publishers during the Tenpō famine (1833–37).
This print series has unique significance for the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Charles Lang Freer (1854–1919) assembled the most extensive collection in the world of paintings by Hokusai. Among these were final drawings (hanshita-e) for unpublished designs in the series. With subsequent acquisitions, forty-one of fifty-three surviving final drawings for the series are in the Freer Gallery collection. Acquisition of all twenty-seven published prints would make the Freer the major repository of Hokusai’s final designs for the series, which would have been a masterpiece of his career.
This example of number twenty-six in the series illustrates a poem by Fujiwara no Tadahira (880–949), identified here by his posthumous name, Teishin-kō. The illustration shows a scene of imperial courtiers kneeling beside the young emperor Daigo (885–930) as he visits Mt. Ogura for maple viewing. A carriage of the type exclusively used by Japanese nobility is parked to the right, behind a pine. The bright red of the turning maple leaves is matched by a vivid palette that reflects the auspicious occasion of the imperial visit. The exceptional quality of the complex color printing includes beautifully controlled color gradations that resemble the nuances of painting.
The poem written in the square cartouche beside the title reads:
mine no momiji-ba
ima hito-tabi no
O autumn leaves
on the peak of Ogura Hill,
if you have a heart,
I would that you would wait
for one more royal progress.