Sparrow on snow covered camellia by Utagawa Hiroshige
In the early 1830s Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), best known today as a designer of landscapes, began creating bird-and-flower prints. These were mostly designed to look like classical paintings: the lines of the keyblock – the wooden block used to print the black lines –are often cut in deliberate imitation of brush strokes (as you can see here) and most are in a tall narrow format, reminiscent of hanging scrolls.
Japan's four distinct seasons have long been a source of inspiration to artists and poets. Particular birds and flowers became symbols of the different seasons and often have their own symbolic meanings. The grouping of sparrows, snow and camellias represents the end of winter. The camellia, with its evergreen leaves and beautiful flowers that blossom in winter, was traditionally viewed as sacred in Japan, while it was considered lucky to see the ‘first sparrow’ at the New Year.
Sparrow on snow covered camellia, 1859
Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797–1858)
Nishiki-e (full colour) woodblock print
33.5 x 11.5 cm