10 facts about Hiroshige

He was the last great master of the Ukiyo-e print, and inspired artists far beyond his homeland

By Google Arts & Culture

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

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

Hiroshige is famous today for two major works, the first was his print series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō. Hiroshige first sketched the work when in 1832 he was invited on an official procession of the Tōkaidō - the imperial road between Edo and Kyoto.

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

He inspired Europeans

Hiroshige's prints travelled far outside of Japan. In Europe, artists of the late 19th-century were fascinated by the country - the trend was named Japonisme, and very popular amongst the Impressionists. Manet and Monet collected and closely studied Hiroshige's compositions.

Flowering plum orchard: after Hiroshige (October 1887 - November 1887) by Vincent van GoghVan Gogh Museum

…especially Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was perhaps most obsessed. He collected many Japanese prints, including several by Hiroshige, and began to made his own variations in oil paints. His paintings such as Almond Blossom owe their subject and style to Hiroshige.

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

Death

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

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