In one of the most recognizable designs of ukiyo-e, Hiroshige captures winter blooms through rich color and dynamic design. Between the blooming branches of the dramatically truncated plum tree in the foreground, the viewer looks into Edo’s famous plum garden, Umeyashiki. Located on the banks of the Sumida River, the garden was home to the “resting dragon plum,” whose low hanging branches gave the impression of a dragon flowing through the ground. While visitors admire the blooms from beyond the far fence, Hiroshige places the viewer amidst trees, close enough to admire the detail of the pale blossoms. 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 compositions and inventive use of perspective, and Van Gogh literally copied this design in oil paint in 1887. Van Gogh’s tracing and completed painting can be found at Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Other impressions of this print can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, British Museum, Tokyo National Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art and Edo Tokyo Museum.
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.