Who Was Hiroshige?

By Talia Zitner

Back in November, we were lucky enough to visit an exhibit at George Washington University about Japanese artist, Hiroshige. I didn’t fully understand how big of a deal this guy really was until we started studying him in my AP world history class. Known for his colorful woodblock prints, Hiroshige can perhaps be considered one of the most important artists of the Edo period.

Born in 1797, Hiroshige (born Ando Hiroshige) lived in Edo, Japan, which is now Tokyo. He was the son of the warden of the Edo fire brigade, and the job was eventually passed down to him after his father resigned following the death of his mother, all while Hiroshige was around 12 years old. However, his father died shortly after as well, and Hiroshige began to pursue his passion for art. He entered the school of the ukiyo-e master Utagawa Toyohiro. After gaining his school license at age 15, Hiroshige would not be recognized for his work until six years later, in 1818.

Eventually, Hiroshige passed his position as fire warden onto his own son. He devoted himself to his art. His work can be divided into three categories:

  • The Student Period (1811-1830): Hiroshige followed the work of others, mainly focusing on figure prints of girls, actors, samurai, and warriors.
  • The Landscape Period (1830-1844): He created his own ideal of landscape design, including many bird-and-flower prints. This culminated in perhaps his most famous venture, Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō, and other Japanese landscapes.
  • Last Period (1844 to 1858): This was his later period focused on landscapes and figure-with-landscapes prints. Unfortunately, overpopularity and overproduction diminished the value of his work.

Hiroshige is credited with over 5,000 prints, and as many as 10,000 copies made of his woodblocks. In 1832 he made a trip between Edo and Kyōto along the highway called the Tōkaidō. He stayed at the 53 overnight stations along the road and made numerous sketches of everything he saw. These sketches eventually were made into prints known as the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō. The success of this series was immediate and made Hiroshige one of the most popular artists of all time. Hiroshige died on October 12th, 1858. He died in the midst of a Cholera epidemic.

The photos included below are from the exhibit we attended, and they are scenes from Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō. The exhibit was really interesting because I had not been exposed to this type of art before, and it was really cool to see it up close and in person!

Talia Hiroshige-2

Talia Hiroshige-1

 

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