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Hiroshige (1797 - 1858)

Ise Province, Mount Asama, Teahouses on the Mountain Pass

Series: Famous Places in the 60-odd Provinces
Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: 1853
Size (H x W): 14.5 x 10.75 (inches)
Publisher: Koshimuraya Heisuke (Koshihei)
Seals: Mera and Watanabe, date, Hori Ta
Signature: Hiroshige hitsu
Condition: Very good color and impression, very light soiling and wear, light rubbing on bottom margin, light original album backing



Though the mountains that rise above Ise Bay were home to many temples and shrines, Ise Province drew staggering numbers of pilgrims to its Ise Grand Shrine. It is said that in 1830 as many as “4.7 million people visited the Great Ise Shrine…over a sixth month period.” [1] Dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, this shrine is considered one of Japan’s most sacred Shinto sites. During their visit, pilgrims could enjoy the local specialty (meibutsu) of this province–akafuku mochi. This rice cake (mochi) covered in sweet red bean paste remains a popular souvenir from the area. The former Ise Province now composes much of modern Mie Prefecture.

[1] Chris Uhlenbeck and Marije Jansen, Hiroshige: Shaping the Image of Japan (Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2008), 10.

About the artist

Born in Edo as Tokutaro Ando, Hiroshige Utagawa grew up in a minor samurai family. His father belonged to the firefighting force assigned to Edo Castle. It is here that Hiroshige was given his first exposure to art: legend has it that a fellow fireman tutored him in the Kano school of painting, though Hiroshige’s first official teacher was Rinsai. Though Hiroshige tried to join Toyokuni Utagawa's studio, he was turned away. In 1811, young Hiroshige entered an apprenticeship with the celebrated Toyohiro Utagawa. After only a year, he was bestowed with the artist name Hiroshige. He soon gave up his role in the fire department to focus entirely on painting and print design. During this time he studied painting, intrigued by the Shijo school. Hiroshige’s artistic genius went largely unnoticed until 1832.

In Hiroshige Utagawa's groundbreaking series of Japanese woodblock prints, The 53 Stations of the Tokaido (1832-1833), he captured the journey along the Tokaido road, the highway connecting Edo to Kyoto, the imperial capital. With the Tokugawa Shogunate relaxing centuries of age-old restrictions on travel, urban populations embraced travel art and Hiroshige Utagawa became one of the most prominent and successful ukiyo-e artists. He also produced kacho-e (bird-and-flower pictures) to enormous success. In 1858, at the age of 61, he passed away as a result of the Edo cholera epidemic.

Hiroshige Utagawa’s woodblock prints continue to convey the beauty of Japan and provide insight into the everyday life of its citizens during the Edo period. The appeal of his tender, lyrical landscapes was not restricted to the Japanese audience. Hiroshige’s work had a profound influence on the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists of Europe: Toulouse-Lautrec was fascinated with Hiroshige’s daring diagonal compositions and inventive use of perspective, while Van Gogh literally copied two of Hiroshige's prints from the famous series, 100 Famous Views of Edo in oil paint.