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Ehon Sumidagawa ryōgan ichiran

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
Japan, Edo period, ca. 1805
3 volumes; fukurotoji binding; woodblock printed; ink and color on paper; paper covers
Freer Gallery of Art      
Purchase              FSC-GR-780.230.1–3

In addition to prints and paintings, Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) created illustrations for around 250 books, some with multiple volumes. In this set of three volumes, he creates the illusion of a continuous journey along the Sumidagawa, the great river that flowed through Edo, opening into Edo Bay. His uninterrupted landscape, with the river running horizontally, continues as each page is turned. The pictures, designed for the front and back of each folded sheet, show both banks of the river simultaneously, beginning at Edo Bay with a view of Mt. Fuji and ending in volume 3 at the Yoshiwara pleasure district. Hokusai’s design defies the interruptions of the individual pages to emulate the continuity of a handscroll. Both scrolls and books are read from right to left.

This sequence of images from each consecutive opening of each volume allows you to see the continuous scene in a way that is not possible when turning the pages of bound books. As in handscroll paintings, Hokusai’s spatially continuous image simultaneously passes through four seasons, from spring to winter at year’s end. He also shifts viewpoint, giving an illusion of zooming in and out, and intersperses clouds to create an effect similar to a cinematic fade.

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Related Exhibition

Hand-Held: Gerhard Pulverer’s Japanese Illustrated Books
April 6–August 11, 2013
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery