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The Plum Garden in Kameido, by Hiroshige
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three main ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) artists:


Utawaga Hiroshige (1797 – 12 October 1858), also called Andō Hiroshige and Ichiyūsai Hiroshige, his art-name, is the are of three Japanese ukiyo-e artists who had a major impact on European art in general and the Impressionists in particular. Japanese art was sent to Europe after a period of seclusion called sakokuWe have now reached the third and last ukiyo-e artist I will feature. Other ukiyo-e artists, printmakers, sent their artwork to Europe. Ukiyo-e prints were extremely popular and inexpensive. The three artists I am featuring are considered the most accomplished.

Childhood and Training

Hiroshige’s father, Andō Gen’emon, was one of thirty samurai who were fire warden protecting the Edo Castle. Hiroshige therefore lived in the Yayosu barracks, in the Yaesu area of Edo (today’s Tokyo). It appears Hiroshige’s first teacher was another fireman who taught him in the Chinese-influenced Kanō style of painting. However, it could be said that Hiroshige was mostly self-taught. For instance, he taught himself the impressionistic Shijō style. In fact, Hiroshige had difficulty finding a teacher, but nevertheless apprenticed under ukiyo-e master Utagawa Toyohiro. He would however inherit his father’s position as fire warden.

(Please click on the images to enlarge them.)800px-Hiroshige_le_Lac_d'Hakone800px-Tokaido16_Yui

Yui-huku (16th station)
Kameyama-Juku in the 1830s (46th station)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Please click on the images to enlarge them.)

Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō (c. 1832-34)

In 1832, when his son was old enough to replace him as fire warden, Hiroshige was invited to join an embassy of Shogunal officials to the Imperial court and accepted the invitation. The road linked the shōgun‘s capital, Edo (Tokyo) to the imperial capital, Kyōto. Hiroshige stayed at fifty-three overnight stations along the road and made several sketches at each station.

According to Wikipedia, Hiroshige “carefully observed the Tōkaidō Road (or ‘Eastern Sea Route’), which wended its way along the shoreline, through a snowy mountain range, past Lake Biwa, and finally to Kyōto.” His series of prints, The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō, were extremely successful, and Hiroshige’s reputation was assured.” (See Hiroshige, Wikipedia.)

He then produced his Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō and made several series, some derivative:

Famous Places in Kyōto (1834), 
Eight Views of Lake Biwa (1835), 
Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaidō (c. 1837).

The success of his Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō allowed Hiroshige to devote his time to his art and to teaching. In all, he made about 5,000 prints. His last series, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, commissioned by a wealthy — if that is possible— Buddhist monk who paid “up-front,” which helped Hiroshige whose financial circumstances were relatively humble.


Horikiri Iris Garden
(influenced Art Nouveau)
Drum Bridge, Meguro River
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Please click on the images to enlarge them.)

One Hundred Views of Edo (1856-1858)

Hiroshige never lived to see the success of his One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1856-1858). He became a Buddhist monk and started painting his Hundred Famous Views of Edo. He died, aged 62, during the great Edo cholera epidemic of 1858, but may not have been a victim of cholera. The Hundred Views were therefore completed by Chinpei Suzuki, a former apprentice who was married to Hiroshige’s daughter Otatsu and whose art-name became Hiroshige II. The couple separated and Otatsu married another student of her deceased father: Hiroshige III.

This series, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo was in Vincent van Gogh‘s collection of ukiyo-e prints. He made at least two paintings, featured below, based on two views of Edo.

(Please click on the images to enlarge them.)Hiroshige_Van_Gogh_1Hiroshige_Van_Gogh_2

left: Hiroshige, “The Plum Garden in Kameido”
right: Van Gogh, “Flowering Plum Tree”
left: Hiroshige, “Great Bridge, Sudden Shower at Atake”
right: Van Gogh, “The Bridge in the Rain”

Conclusion: a “Human Touch”

“Hiroshige captured the very essence of what he saw and turned it into a highly effective composition. There was in his work a human touch that no artist of the school had heretofore achieved; his pictures revealed a beauty that seemed somehow tangible and intimate. Snow, rain, mist, and moonlight scenes compose some of his most poetic masterpieces.”[i]

In this quotation from the Encyclopædia Britannica, the keywords are “the very essence of what he saw” and “a beauty that seemed somehow tangible and intimate.” 

These words describe Hiroshige’s art, but they can also be used to describe Impressionism, the words “essence” and “intimate” in particular. To a large extent, Impressionism is characterized by what seems a brief glance at the subject, capturing the “essence,” which still makes art longer than life,[ii] and the personal manner in which the artist sees a “reality.”

Beauty is not an absolute. It is, very much, “in the eye of the beholder.” As for reality, it is as manifold as the ways it can be viewed.

Hiroshige also influenced Mir iskusstva, a twentieth-century Russian art movement in which Ivan Bilibin was a defining figure.

[i] Richard Lane, ed. “Hiroshige.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 03 Jul. 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266818/Hiroshige>.
[ii] As in: Ars longa, vita brevis.
Andō Hiroshige (the most complete)
Van Gogh dans la lumière japonaise d’Hiroshige
Two Women (Photo credit: probably, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Muzyka czarodzieja Hiroshige. W tle chiński flet bambusowy yogi. Idealna muzyka do medytacji! (ideal for meditation)
Bamboo flute 


White Heron and Irises, c. 1833
From “Pictures of Flowers and Birds,”
a series of eight prints.
(Photo credit: Photos.com/Jupiterimages 
[Encyclopædia Britannica])
© Micheline Walker
3 July 2013