Katsushika Hokusai, Ukiyo-e & Edo Period Japan

Artists of the Ukiyo-e

Utagawa Hiroshige

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Born: 1797
Died: 1858
Style: Widely recognised as one of the true greats of ukiyo-e art, Hiroshige was a prolific artist who specialised in landscapes and adopted Western techniques such as perspective.

Hiroshige was born in 1797 in the barracks of Edo castle. His father was a samurai/retainer of the Shogun and his duties included fire-fighting. Hiroshige followed his father into this profession, but it quickly became apparent that his life would take him away from the duties of a samurai and into the world of the ukiyo-e artist.

From an early age Hiroshige showed an obvious aptitude for painting. He studied the Kano school of art, and later was apprenticed to Utagawa Toyohiro. Toyohiro (not to be confused with Utagawa Toyokuni) was a master of the Utagawa school and specialised in landscapes, a fact which would influence Hiroshige's later work.

Hiroshige produced his first commercially successful set of prints after a journey he made along the Tokaido. The Tokaido was one of several important roads constructed by the the Shoguns in increase their control over the country. The Tokaido linked the administrative capital Edo with the ceremonial capital of Kyoto where the Emporer lived. In 1832 Hiroshige made the trip to Kyoto as part of a delegation sent on behalf of the Shogun. During the trip Hiroshige was inspired by the landscape around him and upon his arrival back in Edo he immediately began work on a series of prints that would become known as The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido. This series was to assure Hiroshige's status as a successful ukiyo-e artist and began a career that would see him remembered as one of the masters of ukiyo-e.

Hiroshige's work influenced artists living far from Japan, contributing to the Japonism movement in the West. European Impressionist painters such as Monet were great admirers of his work. Vincent van Gogh produced copies of his work and Hiroshige also influenced the Mir iskusstva, a 20th century Russian art movement.

A selection of work by Hiroshige

i.View of Mount Fuji from Satta Point in the Suruga Bay
ii.View from the eastern capital: from the 100 views of Edo
iii.Yoroi Ferry, Koami-cho (Yoroi no Watashi Koami-cho): from the 100 views of Edo
iv.Seido and Kanda River from Shohei Bridge: from the 100 views of Edo
v.Suido Bridge and Surugadai (Suidobashi Surugadai): from the 100 views of Edo

vi.The Lake at Hakone: from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido
vii.The Morning glow at the Nihonbashi: from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido
viii.Clear Weather After Snow at Kameyama: from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido
ix.Night Snow at Kambara: from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido