Hiroshige completed his three masterpiece landscape triptychs in 1857, the final year of his life. Driven by an interest in the theme of “snow, moon, and flowers,” Hiroshige expanded his mastery of landscape across three sheets. This panoramic view of Kanazawa Bay is one of these stunning designs. With last blush of sunset lost beyond the mountains, the moon bathes the composition in evening light. A peninsula extends into the central panel, guiding the viewer into the bay to admire the full moon above. Under the blanket of night, the lush landscape of the bay becomes monochrome. Hiroshige evokes the texture of the trees and cliffs that roll down to the sea in shades of grey, yet the water is a still, flat blue–a mirror to the moonlight. Amidst this poetic expression of nature, the intimacies of human life carry on in miniature–figures cross the double-arched bridge in the right sheet and silhouettes occupy the boats out at sea.
Other impressions of this print can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Honolulu Museum of Art, British Museum, Ritsumeikan University, and Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Born in Edo as Tokutaro Ando, Hiroshige 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 Utagawa Toyokuni’s studio, he was turned away. In 1811, young Hiroshige entered an apprenticeship with the celebrated Utagawa Toyohiro. 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), Hiroshige 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 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’s prints continue to convey the beauty of Japan and provide insight into the everyday life of its citizens. 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, Van Gogh literally copied two prints from Hiroshige’s famed series, 100 Famous Views of Edo in oil paint.