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Utagawa Hiroshige

Japanese Woodblock artist

Utagawa Hiroshige Photo

Born: 1797 - Edo (Now Tokyo), Japan

Died: 1858 - Edo


Summary of Utagawa Hiroshige

Utagawa Hiroshige is known as the last great master in Japanese traditional woodblock printing, imbuing the Japanese landscape with a lyricism that drew upon the fleeting nature of sensual pleasure. Hiroshige's prints memorialized everyday life in the late Edo period, in which travel and entertainment became more widely available to the middle-class, and presented a vision of the country in which the changing of the seasons, and the associated festivities, were central. This vision of Japan, heightened by Hiroshige's lush colors and unconventional approach to composition, had widespread appeal within Japan and abroad, with European artists adopting both his bright colors and his themes, transposing his interest in the ephemeral into other settings.

Key Ideas

While Hiroshige was very prolific and made prints on a range of subjects, it is his landscapes, particularly those of his series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, that had the most impact. Hiroshige interpreted famous sites through the lens of everyday experience, rather than literary, historical or imperial significance, giving his prints a mass appeal and allowing the Japanese public to feel emotionally involved with their native landscape.
Hiroshige captured the idea of a 'floating world,' from which the term ukiyo-e derived, through attention to the transient pleasures of secular life rather than, as had been the case prior to the Edo period, philosophical detachment rooted in Buddhism. The mood of his prints draws strongly from his focus on seasonal phenomena, fleeting weather conditions or festivities that marked the passing of time. Hiroshige's prints offered a lasting record of experiences that otherwise disappeared quickly.
Hiroshige's work, alongside that of Katsushika Hokusai, popularized Japanese art and aesthetics in Europe. Hiroshige's bright colors and attention to the passing of time had a strong impact on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, while his bold lines representing trees and flowers had a strong influence on Art Nouveau design.
Utagawa Hiroshige Photo

Utagawa Hiroshige, born as Andō Tokutarō in 1797, was the only son of Andō Gen'emon. Hiroshige's name changed regularly as a child; he was also known as Jūemon, Tokubē, and Tetsuzō. The Andō family were Samurai, the highest ranking of the four Japanese castes, and consequently entitled to a hereditary post as fire wardens in the civil service. They lived in the Yayosu Riverbank area of Edo, now known as Tokyo, which had become capital of the Japanese empire in 1603. There is little documentation of Hiroshige's personal life or attitudes, but that which is known suggests his upbringing was distinguished by tragedy, beginning with the death of an elder sister when he was three; Hiroshige's mother died in 1809, when the artist was eleven, and his father died several months later, after his twelfth birthday.

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