Utagawa Hiroshige

Utagawa Hiroshige was one of Japan’s finest colour woodblock-print artists. In the 19th century, his supremely evocative landscapes were produced in their thousands, and profoundly influenced modern art in the west, particularly the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

Hiroshige was a master of the genre of ukiyo-e — literally ‘images of the floating world’. The term originally referred to prints depicting urban pleasures — mostly idol portraits of popular Kabuki actors and courtesans — but it expanded in the 1880s to incorporate rural leisure and travel.

Hiroshige made some pictures of courtesans and actors, but it was landscape at which he excelled. These are revered for their technical intricacies — some include as many as 12 colours — and inventive viewpoints, but most of all for their impression of fleeting beauty: night snow and morning mist, for instance, the pink clouds of evening, bamboo bending in the wind.

Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi bridge and Atake (1857), in which tiny figures cower under umbrellas or straw capes, is one of the most iconic. Vincent van Gogh owned a print, and in 1887 made an oil and canvas version, Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige) (1887), now in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Born Andō Tokutarō in 1797, Hiroshige was orphaned at the age of 12. At 14, he joined the studio of ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Toyohiro, who specialised in portrait prints and whose name Hiroshige took, as was the custom.

Hiroshige focused on figures until 1829, when, inspired by his contemporary Katsushika Hokusai, he began trialling landscapes. In 1832, Hiroshige travelled the Tokaidō, Japan's principal pilgrimage route, which inspired his first significant series, Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaidō (1834).

Other sets of note include his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1852) and Pictures of Famous Places in the Sixty-odd Provinces (1853–56), from which his views of the foaming whirlpools at Naruto, Awa, Natuto no fuha (Wind and waves at Naruto, Awa Province) derive.

In 1856, he became a monk, though he continued to make pictures, including One Hundred Famous Views of Edo in 1857. Wrestling Matches Between Mountains and Seas is one of Hiroshige’s last works, published shortly before his death in 1858. A complete set of 20, all signed, sold for £118,750 at Christie’s in 2020.

It was Hiroshige’s attention to the ephemeral that made him popular with artists including Edouard Vuillard, Camille Pissarro and Pierre Bonnard, who all made paintings inspired by Hiroshige prints.

Hiroshige also influenced James McNeill Whistler, whose 1864 painting Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen pictures a kimono-clad Joanna Hiffernan leafing through Whistler’s set of Views of the Sixty-odd Provinces.

More recently, Hiroshige's prints have featured on Uniqlo clothing and in two episodes of the children’s educational TV programme, Little Geniuses.

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

The complete set of Wrestling Matches between Mountains and Seas ( Sankai mitate zumo )

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kameido ume yashiki (Plum estate, Kameido)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Buyo Kanazawa hassho yakei (Eight night views of Kanazawa, Musashi Province)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Asakusa tanbo Torinomachi mode (Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kanbara yoru no yuki (Evening snow at Kanbara)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi (The fifty-three stations of Tokaido) ["The Great Tokaido"]

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Fukagawa Susaki Jumantsubo (Jumantsubo Plain at Fukagawa Susaki)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Ryogoku hanabi (Fireworks, Ryogoku)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kameido ume yashiki (Plum estate, Kameido)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kameido ume yashiki (Plum estate, Kameido)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Awa, Natuto no fuha (Wind and waves at Naruto, Awa Province)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi (The fifty-three stations of Tokaido) ["The Great Tokaido"]

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kameido ume yashiki (Plum estate, Kameido)

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Rokujuyoshu meisho zue (Pictures of famous places in the sixty-odd provinces)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Fuji sanjurokkei (Thirty-six views of Fuji)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1868)

Kameido ume yashiki (Plum estate, Kameido)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (Ohashi Atake no yudachi)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi (Fifty-three stations of the Tokaido),

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Ohashi Atake no yudachi (Ohashi bridge, sudden shower at Atake)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Ohashi bridge, sudden shower at Atake

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Asakusa tanbo Torinomachi mode (Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival)

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Ohashi Atake no yudachi (Ohashi bridge, sudden shower at Atake)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Ohashi bridge, sudden shower at Atake

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858)

The Complete Set of the series Six Jewel Rivers in Various Provinces

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Ueno sanno tsuki no matsu (Moon pine at Ueno)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Buyo Kanazawa hassho yakei (Eight night views of Kanazawa, Musashi Province)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kisoji no yamakawa (Mountain river on the Kiso Road)

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Fan print (uchiwa-e) of Full moon, morning glories and autumn flowers

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797–1858)

Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (Ohashi Atake no yudachi)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Awa, Naruto no fuha (Wind and waves at Naruto, Awa Province)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Asahina under cherry blossom

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

THE COMPLETE SET OF THE SERIES PICTURES OF FAMOUS PLACES ON THE FIFTY-THREE STATIONS (THE VERTICAL TOKAIDO)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Ohashi bridge, sudden shower at Atake

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Driving Rain at Shono ( Shono - Hakuu )

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Ohashi Atake no yudachi (Ohashi bridge, sudden shower at Atake)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Mountain River on the Kiso Road (Kisoji no yamakawa)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Nihonbashi tori icchome ryakuzu (View of Nihonbashi-tori 1 chome)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kisoji no yamakawa (Mountain river on the Kiso Road)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Awa Naruto no fukei (View of the whirlpools at Naruto, Awa province)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

A set of six woodblock prints from an untitled series of famous places in various provinces

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

The Moon Seen through Leaves (Hagoshi no tsuki)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival (Asakusa tanbo Torinomachi mode)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Yellow rose ( Yamabuki ) and frogs

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Gojusan-tsugi meisho zu-e (Famous sights of the fifty-three stations) ["Vertical Tokaido"]

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kanda Konya-cho (Konya-cho, the Dyer's Street in Kanda)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Awa Naruto no fukei (View of the whirlpools at Naruto, Awa province)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kisoji no yamakawa (Mountain river on the Kiso Road)

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Kanbara yoru no yuki (Evening snow at Kanbara)