Hiroshige (1797 - 1858)

Iyo Province, Saijo

Series: Famous Places in the 60-odd Provinces
Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: 1855
Size (H x W): 14.5 x 10.75 (inches)
Publisher: Koshimuraya Heisuke (Koshihei)
Seals: Aratame and date seal, Hori Soji
Signature: Hiroshige hitsu
Condition: Very good color and impression, faint soiling in the sky, light soiling and wear on margins, light album backing, pin hole in bottom right margin, embellished with mica, wood grain visible.

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From the tip of the truncated sail in the foreground, the eye follows the diagonal path of the geese overhead. Beyond the waterside village of Saijo, white castle walls can be seen among the pines, small beneath the mountain range. Measuring 1982 meters high, Mount Ishizuchi is the highest peak on Shikoku. Though today it is known for its steep rock formations that come to a point, Hiroshige presents a flat-topped peak. This characterization of the mountain is consistent with his much consulted source, Exceptional Mountain and Water Landscapes (Sansui kikan, 1800-1802), illustrated by Fuchigami Kyokko (1753-1816).[ 1] Today, the former Iyo Province belongs to modern Ehime Prefecture.

[1] Jansen, Hiroshige’s Journey in the 60-Odd Provinces, 142.

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.