From a high vantage point with a dramatic bird's-eye view, we gaze down on the city of Edo as it looked around 1800. Mount Fuji, Edo Castle (home of the shogun) and Ohashi, the largest of the great wooden bridges spanning the Sumida River, are placed on the center axis. The view is at once a dawn landscape and a map.
Keisai, the son of a tatami-maker, began his career as a print designer and book illustrator using the name Kitao Masayoshi. In his early thirties, he was apponted official painter to a daimyo in western Japan and took the surname Kuwagata in 1797. He was drawn to topographical depictions with a strong sense of expansive, Western-style spatial recession. Around 1803, Keisai designed a print of almost the same novel view as that in the painting shown here. The print is signed "Edo Kuwagata Shoshin" and titled "A Picture of the Famous Places of Edo." Henry Smith has suggested that Keisai may have come by his panorama through the earlier Western-style optique views by the Kyoto artist Maruyama Okyo (see Henry D. Smith II, "World Without Walls: Kuwagata Keisai's Panoramic Vision of Japan," in Japan and the World, eds., Gail Lee Bernstein and Haruhiro Fukui [Oxford: Macmillan Press in association with St. Antony's College, University of Oxford, 1988], 13). Keisai recreated the vista in a painting on sliding doors dated 1809 in Tsuyama Castle.