Abloom in vibrant pink, “Cherry Blossom Island” (Sakurajima) rises from Kagoshima Bay. As the island’s volcanic peak rises above the horizon, it’s jagged top suggests the active vent within. Sakurajima remains Japan’s most active volcano. Its eruption in 1914 connected the island to Osumi Peninsula. A painted impression of this design can be seen in the American artist James McNeil Whistler’s Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen (1864). In it, the model Joanna Hiffernan holds this design in her hand, surrounded by other ukiyo-e and objects from Whistler’s personal collection of Japanese art. Today, the former Osumi Province belongs to eastern Kagoshima Prefecture.
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's groundbreaking series of 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.
Utagawa Hiroshige’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.