Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige



No description

Utagawa Hiroshige was born in 1797 as Andō Tokutarō (安藤 徳太郎) in the Yayosugashi neighbourhood (now Marunouchi in the Chiyoda district) in Edo, now Tokyo.[1] His surnames in later years were Jūemon (重右衛門), Tokubē (徳兵衛) and, for a time, Tetsuzō.

Hiroshige, bijin, series “Eight Views – Women and Landscapes in Comparison”, early 1820s

His father was Mitsuemon Genemon, who had been adopted by Andō Jūemon and had taken over the hereditary office of a subordinate fire officer (Hikeshi Dōshin, “administrator of the fire-fighting association”) in the service of the bakufu. As a servant of the bakufu, he was a member of the samurai rank and his area of operation was the Yayosugashi neighbourhood.

Tokutarō’s mother died in February 1809. In the same month, his father gave him the post of fire officer, and a few months later, towards the end of the year, his father also died. Of his three sisters, it is only known that the eldest had already died in 1800.

Tokutarō was the supervisor of a small group of firefighters. His living conditions were modest. The salary associated with the post was just enough to provide rice for two people for a year. He had to share the ten barracks in which the fire brigade department was housed with 30 other officers and 300 enlisted men and their families. Like other members of the lowest rank of samurai, the gokenin, he was forced to look for other sources of income. Gokenin families often engaged in cottage industries such as making umbrellas, boxes and wooden sandals.

The duties of a fire officer in Edo at the beginning of the 19th century were apparently not particularly extensive and so Tokutarō had time on the side to start an apprenticeship as a woodblock engraver. Why he chose this artisanal, middle-class profession of all things in order to earn an extra income to supplement his livelihood is completely unclear.

He had received unofficial painting lessons in the style of the Kanō school from one of his superiors and friends, Okajima Rinzō (or Rinsai). For a member of the samurai rank, even the lowest rank, this would be nothing out of the ordinary, as calligraphy and basic painting skills were part of their standard training. The signature of a painting allegedly preserved from his childhood, which shows an envoy from the king of the Ryūkyū Islands to the shogun and is supposed to prove his early extraordinary drawing ability, is doubtful according to Forrer, and even if it could be attributed to Hiroshige, it would not reveal any special talent.

According to tradition, Tokutarō initially applied for an apprenticeship with the most respected woodcut artist of his time, Utagawa Toyokuni I, but was rejected by him. Through the mediation of a wealthy owner of a lending library, he was finally able to begin his training with the lesser-known Utagawa Toyohiro in 1810 or 1811. As evidenced by a surviving letter, he received permission from him in 1812 to use the school name Utagawa and the pseudonym Hiroshige. It was unusual that he had already received this permission before completing his apprenticeship. However, it is highly unlikely that this was due to his exceptional talent, as is often claimed in the literature. There are no works signed by Hiroshige from this period (according to Forrer, a print from 1813 allegedly made by his brush is dated 1819) and the works signed by him after completing his apprenticeship in 1818 and the ten years that followed do not reveal any above-average abilities, rather the opposite is the case.

During his apprenticeship, the budding printmaker, like all other apprentices, was busy learning the basic techniques of painting and drawing, including uki-e, copying the work of his teacher and other respected woodblock printmakers, studying other schools of painting such as the Nanga and Shijō schools and, from time to time, designing book illustrations. Toyohiro himself, like other ukiyo-e artists, drew designs for actor and kabuki prints (yakusha-e), pictures of beautiful women (bijin-ga), prints of historical events (musha-e), city views of Edo (meisho-e) and illustrations for the popular ehon.

Until around 1827, Hiroshige received only a few commissions from publishers for print designs. He produced a few book illustrations, kabuki prints, bijin-ga and musha-e, all of which were particularly inspired by his contemporary Kunisada, with occasional echoes of Kuniyoshi. However, he did not achieve the quality of his role models and M. Forrer describes these early prints more as curiosities.

In 1823, Tokutarō/Hiroshige had passed on his position as fire officer to his adopted son Nakajirō, for whom he acted as deputy for a few more years.[9][10] His master Toyohiro, who had offered to take over his studio and his name before his death, died in 1828. However, Hiroshige declined for unknown reasons. No works by Hiroshige are known from 1827 until 1830, only after which he received small commissions for the design of surimono again and probably designed his first “bird and flower” prints. His first series, “Famous Views of the Eastern Capital”, comprising 21 sheets, appeared around 1831. These prints, executed in a hitherto unknown manner, obviously found favour with the public, as they were printed in several editions. Hiroshige then received his first, truly significant commission: he was to draw the designs for a series of 55 prints of the stations on Tōkai Street. The first prints in the series “The 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō” were published the following year. By 1834 or 1836[ at the latest, all the prints in the series had been completed and were sold as complete albums with title page and table of contents, a particular indication that they were in great demand among buyers. With the prints in this series, which include some of Hiroshige’s best-known works, he established his reputation as the draughtsman of landscapes for woodblock prints in the last three decades of the Edo period. In the years leading up to his death in 1858, he received numerous commissions for the design of colour woodblock prints and colour woodblock print series. Some authors put the number of print designs drawn by Hiroshige at around 8,000 works, but a more realistic figure is probably 4,000 to 4,500, plus the numerous illustrations for around 120 books. He not only drew the designs for landscape prints, but also for fans, envelopes, bijin-ga, “bird and flower” prints (kacho-ga), game boards and genji prints.

Despite this enormous number of works, he was unable to make a fortune from his craft. He was paid just twice as much for his designs as the labourers who worked on the fortifications of Shinagawa. His financial situation was improved by the commissions for his paintings, of which several dozen have survived, and for each of which his private clients paid up to a year’s salary for an ordinary labourer.

Otherwise, not much is known about Hiroshige’s life. An autobiography that he is said to have written was burnt in 1876. His first wife died in 1839 and Uspenski mentions the death of a son named Tojirō in 1845. He had a daughter, Otatsu, from his second marriage to Oyasu, the daughter of a farmer named Kaemon. Her first marriage was to Shigenobu, the adopted son and master pupil of Hiroshige, who took the name Hiroshige II after the teacher’s death in 1858. It was only after the death of his first wife that Hiroshige moved out of the firemen’s barracks, first to the Oga-chō neighbourhood, then to Tokiwa-chō and finally, around 1850, to Nakabashi Kanō Shindō,[ all addresses within the Edo metropolitan area. After 1840, several extensive trips to the provinces of Japan are documented (1841 to the province of Kai, 1844 to the Bōsō peninsula, 1845 to the province of Mutsu and 1848 to Shinano), during which numerous sketches of the respective landscapes were made, which were later developed into print designs and paintings.

Hiroshige died at the age of 62; he is buried in a Buddhist temple in the Edo district of Asakusa. In the two years preceding his death, he drew the sketches for his last series “100 Famous Views of Edo”. This series was his artistic legacy. The prints show his hometown of Edo at its most beautiful and they show Hiroshige at the height of his artistic powers. The series includes many of his best works, such as the eagle above the snow-covered plain of Jūmantsubo or the rain shower over the great bridge of Atake.


Most of Hiroshige’s works are labelled “Hiroshige ga” or “Hiroshige hitsu”, some books are signed “Utashige” (歌重) (1830-44).

The epithets (gō-names) he used were Ichiyūsai (written with the kanji “一勇斎” from 1818 to 1830 and with the kanji “一幽斎” in 1830/31), Ichiryūsai (一立斎) from 1832 to 1842 and Ryūsai (立斎) from 1842 to 1858. The seal “Tōkaidō” was occasionally used in addition to the name on paintings.


Utagawa Hiroshige II (1826-69), former artist’s name Shigenobu; after the death of Hiroshige I he took over his name, after the divorce from Hiroshige’s daughter Otatsu in 1865 he called himself Shigenobu again (重宣), he also used the name Risshō (立祥).

Utagawa Hiroshige III (1842-94), formerly known as Shigemasa (重政) and Hiromasa (広政), took over the teacher’s name after his marriage to Otatsu in 1865.

Utagawa Hirokage (広景, active between 1855 and 1865).

Nakayama Sugakudō (active between 1850 and 1860).

F. Schwan also lists Shigemasa, Shigemaru, Shigefusa, Shigehisa, Shigeyoshi, Shigehana, Shigetoshi and Shikō (all without further details).


Hiroshige’s first confirmed works were published in 1818. They were illustrations for the “Book of Murasaki’s Poems” as well as some actor prints. The following year he designed his first surimono. In 1820, he created several series with images of women (Bijin-ga), some warrior images (Musha-e) and illustrated several books. Similar prints followed sporadically until 1827, supplemented by some landscape series with small-format prints and further surimono. Shortly after 1830, he was commissioned by the publisher Kawaguchiya Shozō to design the first series entitled “Famous Views of the Eastern Capital”. A second series of the same name with 28 sheets was commissioned by Sanoya Kihei around 1833/34.

One or two years earlier, around 1832/33, Hiroshige had already been commissioned by the publisher Takenouchi Magohachi (Hōeidō) to design 55 prints of his first Tōkaidō series (“The 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō”, known as Hōeidō Tōkaidō). With this series, he established his reputation as the leading landscape printmaker of his time.

Many of the prints in the series were inspired by illustrations from well-known travel guides such as Tōkaidō meisho zue (“Collected Views of Beautiful Places along the Tōkaidō”), first compiled by Akisato Ritō in 1797 and repeatedly republished in the following years. What was not new about Hiroshige’s artistic conception of landscape was that he made “lively street scenes with ordinary people going about their business on the main street (the) subject of artistic exploration”. Such genre scenes had previously been drawn by Toyohiro and Hokusai, among others. What was new about Hiroshige’s paintings was the harmonious integration of the depiction of people in expansive landscapes. He created lyrical pictures in which the viewer could directly perceive the mood of nature unclouded by philosophical musings about nature and man. Hiroshige’s people carry burdens, but they are not burdened. In this way, he appealed to the tastes of broad sections of the population and fully realised the idea of ukiyo as the “serene, transient world” in Japanese landscape printing. It is estimated that up to 20,000 copies of individual sheets from the series were made from the first printing plates until they were no longer usable. New plates had already been cut in the 19th century in order to produce further editions. Further new editions were made in the 20th century and even in the 3rd millennium, prints from this series are still being sold as colour woodcuts.

Around 1835, Takenouchi Magohachi also commissioned the series “Eight Views of Ōmi” (known as “Eight Views of Lake Biwa”), which is undoubtedly one of his masterpieces. Printed only in shades of grey in the first edition, the prints in the series atmospherically depict the magnificent landscape surrounding one of Japan’s most popular lakes. However, in order to meet the public’s taste, some colour plates had to be added for later editions. In 1836/37, Hiroshige began to draw prints for the series “The 69 Stations of the Kisokaidō”. This project had been taken on by the publisher Iseya Rihei of Magohachi, who had initially commissioned Keisai Eisen to design the prints and who had delivered 24 designs by 1836. Hiroshige only completed the last designs for this very extensive series in 1841.

From 1835 to the mid-1850s, several thousand meisho-e prints (“pictures of beautiful places”) were created, mostly showing the stations of the Tokaidō and the excursion spots in and around Edo, but also including views of Ōsaka and Kyōto. Ultimately, they were variations on the same theme, often of questionable artistic value: superficially drawn and usually of poor print quality, so that they could be sold cheaply as souvenirs to travellers and day trippers. In the 1840s, Hiroshige contributed several designs to the “Hundred Poets” and “Parallel Pictures to Tōkaidō” series produced together with Kunisada and Kuniyoshi. And in the 1850s, several series were created in co-operation with Kunisada. These included the 50 prints of the series “Famous Restaurants of the Eastern Capital” (1852) and the 55 prints of the series “The Tōkai Street by Two Brushes (Painted)” (1857). For all the joint series, Kunisada drew the figures in the foreground and Hiroshige the background and cartouches of the background pictures. A particularly successful example of this collaboration were the triptychs of the 1853 series “A Modern Genji”, of which eight designs are known.

Hiroshige’s mastery in the design of landscape prints reached a new peak in the 1850s, despite the mass-produced goods produced at the same time.

Series “36 Views of Mount Fuji”

Impressive images of Japan’s magnificent landscape were produced in vertical format prints of the best print quality: 1853-56 in the series “Famous Places of Japan’s More Than 60 Provinces”, 1855 in the series “The 53 Stations of Tōkaidō” (which he drew here alone for the last time) and 1858 in “The 36 Views of Mount Fuji” (actually the last series drawn by Hiroshige). Finally, Uoya Eikichi produced the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo”, also in portrait format. Contrary to the title, a total of 118 sheets were published in the years 1856-58, three of which were drawn by his master student Shigenobu (Hiroshige II) (after the death of Hiroshige I, Hiroshige II drew the design for a further print in 1859, which replaced the sheet “Paulownia in Akasaka” in later editions). Hiroshige himself described the prints in this series as his best work, which was to be his artistic legacy.

Over the course of his career, Hiroshige drew designs for the entire spectrum of Japanese woodblock prints. His few drama, warrior and chūshingura prints are less convincing. More impressive, on the other hand, are his numerous “bird and flower” prints, which depict atmospheric impressions of nature. His approximately 500 designs for fan prints and occasional bijin-ga also include appealing prints. Several hundred paintings that he painted to order for his contemporary admirers are also valued and sought after by collectors and museums.


The influence of Japanese woodcuts and especially Hiroshige’s influence on Impressionist painting is particularly evident in two paintings by Vincent van Gogh, which were created in Paris in 1887. The models for these were two prints from the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo”, “Garden of Plum Trees in Kameido” and “Rain Showers over the Great Bridge in Atake” (the prints are part of van Gogh’s surviving collection of Japanese woodcuts, which comprises almost 500 prints and contains a total of around 75 Hiroshige prints). Both of van Gogh’s paintings were still influenced by Parisian Japonism, his own style was still undeveloped and the lines were weak. However, the strong, two-dimensional colour contrasts already hint at his further development. A little later, he consistently transposed the essential elements of Japanese woodblock prints (clear lines, stylised forms and colour-filled areas) into the technique of Western oil painting. Other congenial artists such as Paul Gauguin and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec took up this new style of painting.