Memorial Portrait of Hiroshige (19th century) by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Andō Hiroshige was born in 1797, a member of the samurai class. As is tradition, he went through several names as a child: Jūemon, Tokubē, and Tetsuzō, settling on Utagawa Hiroshige. He is regarded by many as the last great artist of the ukiyo-e woodcut genre.
Portrait of the Actor Danjūrō VIII in the role of Ebizako no Ju matched with background image of Ebi restaurant (first month of 1853) by Utagawa Hiroshige, Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Ukiyo-e, translates literally as 'images of the floating world'. It focussed on the urban pleasures of the Japan's capital city Edo, now Tokyo, and the images of actors, courtesans, and sumo wrestlers - celebrities of the day. It's often thought of as a Japanese fin-de-siecle.
Night View of the Matsuchiyama and Sam'ya Canal (Matsuchiyama San'yabori Yakei), No. 34 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando) (Japanese, 1797-1858)Original Source: Brooklyn Museum collection
He was a fireman before he was an artist
Hiroshige had inherited his father's job as fire warden of Edo Castle. Fires were very common in the era, and the job gave him an ample income as well as much free time, which he dedicated to art. He enrolled under Toyohiro of the Utagawa school, and also studied the Kanō school.
Evening Snow at Kanbara (circa 1833-1834) by Utagawa HiroshigeLos Angeles County Museum of Art
The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō
Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Hoeido Edition “Nihonbashi (Morning Scene)” (1833) by Utagawa HiroshigeShizuoka city Tokaido Hiroshige Museum of Art
More urban than urbane
Hiroshige's style didn't resemble the traditional ukiyo-e pictures. Instead of fashionable ladies of leisure, he pictured working men and women in urban landscapes, but he did so with clarity and beauty that was highly respected.
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo “Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake” (1857) by Utagawa HiroshigeShizuoka city Tokaido Hiroshige Museum of Art
One hundred views of Edo
The second of his major works was One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, first published in serialised form between 1856–59. It was unbelievably popular, and remains so today. Sadly, he never completed the work, which was continued by his son-in-law, Hiroshige II.
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo “Plum Garden in Kameido” (1857) by Utagawa HiroshigeShizuoka city Tokaido Hiroshige Museum of Art
He was a master of bokashi
Bokashi, is the technique of producing colour gradients by carefully dipping the corner of a brush into water to achieve saturated and dilute colours. Hiroshige was highly skilled at using this effect to produce beautiful skylines - see how the red sky blends into green land.
Bridge in the rain: after Hiroshige (October 1887 - November 1887) by Vincent van GoghVan Gogh Museum
Flowering plum orchard: after Hiroshige (October 1887 - November 1887) by Vincent van GoghVan Gogh Museum
The Great Sanjo Bridge, Kyoto, from the series the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido (Hoeido edition) (ca.1833) by Utagawa HiroshigeNakagawa-machi bato hiroshige art of museum
He had successful students
Hiroshige's principal student was Chinpei Suzuki, who married his daughter Otatsu. Suzuki took the art name Shigenobu, but after the death of Hiroshige in 1858, he inherited his name. To avoid confusion, he's conventionally known as Hiroshige II.
Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Hoeido Edition “Mariko (The Famous Teahouse)” (1833) by Utagawa HiroshigeShizuoka city Tokaido Hiroshige Museum of Art
Despite success, he lived a life of poverty
Hiroshige was constantly struggling to make ends meet. Its thought that part of the reason he made so many artworks is because he was so poorly paid. He only earned about twice the salary of a wage-labourer, and had many debts at the time of his death.
Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Hoeido Edition “Shono (Rainstorm)” (1833) by Utagawa HiroshigeShizuoka city Tokaido Hiroshige Museum of Art
In 1856 Hiroshige 'retired from the world' to become a Buddhist monk. He died two years later, and was buried in a Zen Buddhist temple in Asakusa. His death poem goes: "I leave my brush in the East And set forth on my journey. I shall see the famous places in the Western Land."
Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa (Edo period, 19th century) by Katsushika HokusaiTokyo National Museum