Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重)

Hiroshige UTAGAWA (1797 - October 12, 1858) was an Ukiyoe artist. He was born in the Ando family, who were firefighters in Edo, and after succeeding to the family headship, became an Ukiyoe artist. However, he did not use the name Hiroshige ANDO as he is commonly called nowadays, and thus Hiroshige UTAGAWA is considered to be his correct name as an Ukiyoe artist.

Brief Personal History

Hiroshige was born as a son of Genemon ANDO, a lower-ranking samurai in Edo and an officer of the Yayosu Riverbank Fire Station. His childhood name was Tokutaro, and later Juemon or Tokube. He had been interested in painting since childhood, and around 1811, at the age of 15, tried to enter the school of Toyokuni UTAGAWA at first, but was refused because there was no vacancy. He then became a disciple of Toyohiro UTAGAWA (c. 1773 - 1828) who gave him the name of Hiroshige UTAGAWA in the following year, 1812.

Eleven years later, in 1823, he resigned from the family business as a fire fighter and became a full-time painter.

In 1830, he changed his name to Hiroshige ICHIYUSAI, and began painting flowers and birds, but after the death of Toyohiro in 1828 he painted mainly landscapes. In 1832, he changed his pseudonym to Ichiryusai.

He died in 1858. He died at the age of 62. His friend Kunisada UTAGAWA painted his "Shinie" (something like a portrait for remembrance; refer to the image in this section) with his death poem written on it.

I depart on a journey, leaving my brush in the East, to scenic places in the Western country. He meant, "I want to see scenic places in the Western Pure Land." The cause of death is said to have been cholera.

Hiroshige Blue

The works of Hiroshige UTAGAWA are highly appreciated in Europe and the United States of America for their dynamic composition and the beauty of blue color, particularly indigo blue.

This vivid blue is derived from the indigo plant and called in Europe and America "Japan Blue" or "Hiroshige Blue" comparing it to Vermeer Blue (lapis lazuli).

Hiroshige Blue is considered to have had a great influence on impressionists and Art Nouveau artists originated in late 19th century France and was one of the factors that had led to the prevalence of Japonism then.

Return Trip via Tokai-do Road

In 1832, Hiroshige is said to have obtained a chance to travel back and forth to Kyoto by joining the shogunate procession which was the envoy to present horses to the emperor. In 1833, he painted "Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi" (Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido), which is regarded as his masterpiece. In addition to the excellence of the work itself, with perspective and a sense of depth effectively representing rain or wind, it became very popular as a measure to get a glimpse of the outside world that the people of that time yearned to see.

Meanwhile, there is a theory that in fact he might have not traveled, although a story says that he managed to have joined the shogunate procession using influential connections.

There is also a theory that he painted it by modifying oil paintings of Kokan SHIBA.

Koshu Nikki (Diary of Koshu)

In the middle of the Edo period, improved productivity in cities revitalized townsmen culture such as learning, arts for amusement, rites, festivals and seasonal events. Kofu Castle Town in Kai Province (Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture), then under the direct control of the shogunate, also held a grand festival of Doso-jin (traveler's guardian deity) in the late Edo period where it was decorated with splendid banner paintings. The economic power of merchants in Kofu enabled them to invite famous painters like Hiroshige from Edo to produce the banner paintings. Upon the request in 1841 of townspeople in 1-chome, Midori-cho, Kofu (now Wakamatsu-cho) to paint the banner, Hiroshige left Edo for Kofu via Koshu-kaido Road in May of that year and stayed there working on it. "Koshu Nikki" (Record of the Days in May 1841, Year of the Ox) is a record of that time, with sketches and diaries written during his trip from Edo and stay in Kofu. It includes sketches of scenic places in Koshu, such as Mt. Takao viewed from current Hachioji City, Mt. Fuji viewed from Kofu City, Kai Zenko-ji Temple there and the Fuji-gawa River in Minobu-cho, drawn in black ink with brushes of different thickness. It is used for the study of Hiroshige's works and also regarded as an important record of the actual situation of Kofu Castle Town in the Edo period, for its descriptions about a play viewing in Kofu, a restaurant where he was entertained, and so on.

According to the diary, Hiroshige arrived at Kofu on May 25 of that year and enjoyed a haiku gathering, play and so on during his stay, and was welcomed by the townspeople of Kofu. The diary was then interrupted and resumed in December, during which interruption the banner paintings were completed. The advance money is said to have been 5 ryo (ryo is a currency unit). These banner paintings of 39 scenic places along the Tokai-do Road were displayed in Yanagi-machi, Kofu. During the interruption of the diary, he is considered to have dedicated himself to painting the banner, or temporarily have returned to Edo to work on it. Among the banner paintings completed by Hiroshige, only a few have been preserved till the present day; two of them are owned by Yamanashi Prefectural Museum and a preliminary sketch has been retained by an old family in Kofu City.

In addition to the banner paintings, he also completed paintings on folding screens and sliding doors upon the request of the townspeople of Kofu and a part of them has been preserved by a mercantile house of Kofu, Oki Collection (owned by Yamanashi Prefectural Museum).

The diary also contains sketches of scenic places in Kai Province in addition to the records of his stay in Kofu, and a part of the sketches was utilized in the paint "Fuji Sanjurokkei" (Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji). It was known to be contained in "Kai Shiryo Shusei" (Collected Materials of Kai Provincial History), but the original book was lost in the Great Kanto Earthquake. The discovered sketchbook consists of 19 Japanese papers, 19.6 cm long and 13.1 cm wide. It is said to have been taken abroad immediately after the death of Hiroshige the third in 1894. In 1925, English researcher Edward F. STRANGE introduced it in his book, but then it went missing. In 2005, a citizen of the United States of America won it in an auction held in London, and a curator of Nakagawa-machi Bato Hiroshige Museum of Art in Tochigi Prefecture judged it as genuine. It was discovered after almost 80 years (Asahi Shinbun newspaper dated September 5, 2006).

Superb Paintings

Later, around 1848, he started to call himself simply Ryusai. As woodblock printing became popular, Ukiyoe artists became printmakers and few could finely paint on paper or silk with brushes, but Hiroshige left superb paintings that had a different charm from prints.

The perspective is known to have influenced impressionists, particularly Vincent Van GOGH (1853 - 1890), but it was originally a technique that Ukiyoe artists had adopted from Western paintings, and can be observed in uki-e (perspective pictures) by earlier artists such as Hokusai KATSUSHIKA and Toyoharu UTAGAWA (1735 - 1814), the founder of Utagawa school.

Residence in Edo

According to 'Picture of Southern Nihonbashi in Edo' of Bunkyu era (from 1861 to 1863), Hiroshige's residence was located in Oga-cho, Nihonbashi (now Kyobashi) next to the former residence of Eitoku KANO in the west.

He seems to have moved later to Tokiwa-cho, five blocks ahead to Kyobashi.

Death Poem

His death poem is said to have been "I depart on a journey, leaving my brush in the East, to scenic places in the Western country", but some people think that someone else might have made it.

In April 1882 (24 years after the death of Hiroshige), his disciples established a monument at Akiba Shrine in Susaki Village, Suminoe, but it was destroyed in Great Tokyo Air Raids in the Second World War and nothing remains now.

Place of His Tomb

He died from an epidemic (cholera) on October 12, 1858 at the age of 65. His tomb is at Togaku-ji Temple of the Zen sect.

List of Works

"Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi" - 55 colored woodblock prints (53 stations, Edo and Kyoto).

"Kanazawa no Tsukiyo" (A Moonlit Night in Kanazawa), "Awa no Naruto" (Rapids of Awa-no-Naruto), "Kiso Sekkei" (Kiso Mountains in Snow) - large colored woodblock prints each consisting of three prints.

"Kanazawa Hakkei" (Eight Views of Kanazawa) - 8 prints.

"Kyoto Meisho" (Famous Views of Kyoto), "Naniwa Meisho" (Famous Views of Naniwa [Osaka]) - both a series of ten prints.

"Omi Hakkei" (Eight Views of Omi).

"Edo Kinko Hakkei" (Eight Views of the Edo Environs).

"Toto Meisho" (Famous Places of the Eastern Capital).

"Fuji Sanjurokkei" (Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji).

"Rokujuyoshu Meisho Zue" (Pictures of Famous Places in the Sixty-odd Provinces) - a series of 70 prints.

"Kiso Kaido Rokuju-kyu-tsugi" (Sixty-nine Stations along the Kiso Road) - a series.

"Koyo Saruhashi" (Saru-hashi Bridge in Koshu), "Fujigawa Sekkei" (Fuji-gawa River in Snow) - both in the form of hanging scrolls, with two prints connected vertically.

"Meisho Edo Hyakkei" (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo) - large vertical prints, a series of 118 prints (later a cover of four seasons was added).

"Ehon Edo Miyage" (An Edo Souvenir in Pictures) - illustration.

Museums Housing the Works

They are housed in various places but usually not permanently exhibited due to the risk of deterioration by light. In Japan, the following museums own his works.

Tokyo National Museum (Taito Ward, Tokyo)

Nakagawa-machi Bato Hiroshige Museum of Art (Nakagawa-machi, Tochigi Prefecture)

Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History (Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture)

Hiroshige Museum of Art, Ena (Ena City, Gifu Prefecture)

Tokaido Hiroshige Bijutsukan (Tokaido Hiroshige Museum of Art) (Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture)

Hiroshige Museum of Art (Tendo City, Yamagata Prefecture)

Umi no Mieru Mori Bijutsukan (Museum of Art in Woods Overlooking the Sea) (Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture)

Outside Japan, the following museums own his works.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, the United States of America)

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, the United States of America)

Brooklyn Museum (New York, the United States of America)

Guimet Musée national des Arts Asiatiques (Paris, France)

Successors of Hiroshige

According to Shizuya FUJIKAKE, Hiroshige the second was a disciple of Hiroshige and commonly called Chinpei MORITA whose pseudonym was Nobushige. He married Otatsu, a 16-year-old adopted daughter of Hiroshige the first, but later divorced her in 1865 when she was 22. After this, he often went to Yokohama City to sell his works, and as foreign trade gradually increased, he became known to foreigners as "Hiroshige of tea box" (because he painted labels attached to tea boxes used for shipping). Among his works created in the name of 'Kisai Rissho,' "Sanju-rokkasen" (Selected 36 Flowers), a kind of landscape painting with the theme of flowers, was superb and made on a large vertical type of colored woodblock print upon the request of publishers. Among "Meisho Edo Hyakkei" series, he left an excellent painting 'Akasaka Kiribata Uchu Yukei' (View of the Kiribata [Paulownia Imperiales] Trees at Akasaka on a Rainy Evening) that is highly appreciated for its composition and colors, more than 'Akasaka Kiribata' painted by Hiroshige the first.

Hiroshige the third was Shigemasa (1845 - 1894) who was one of disciples and commonly called Torakichi GOTO. He married Otatsu after she got divorced. His pseudonym was Isshosai.

Hiroshige the fourth was Kiichiro KIKUCHI, whose succession of the name was decided by a consultation between Otatsu, wife of Hiroshige the third and Seifu SHIMIZU. It was because the Kikuchi family was close to the Ando family. He first created woodblock prints, mainly of warriors, but later became a calligrapher. Kiichiro published a book about Ukiyoe.

[Original Japanese]