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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

Ando Hiroshige was a highly significant contributor to the ukiyo-e period of Japanese art, arriving towards the back-end of this influential era and producing some of its most famous paintings and woodblock prints.

This was an artist who drew on the earlier work of the extraordinary Hokusai and combined elements of that with his own technical preferences. You will find, for example, a highly skilled use of gradiented colour, which worked beautifully within his landscape scenes.

He was particularly hard working, both in the amount of work that he produced across his career, but also in the methods that he used to do so, which would normally be the most precise but also highly labour intensive. Although Japanese art was started to prove commercial successful during the 19th century, he did not want to ever sacrifice his attention to detail and a devotion to the finest methods of production. This is perhaps why his paintings remain so loved all these years later.

Developments in Printing Techniques

It had not been long since the printed process in Japan had made use of only a very small palette but the arrival of more complex techniques allowed bright colour and a great complexity for the first time. It is hard to imagine Hiroshige having quite the same impact on European artists such as Van Gogh were it not for this advancement, though he also added his own innovations as well which pushed things onwards once again.

After his death it is believed that this critical period of Japanese art, the ukiyo-e, would start to fall away and be replaced by new ideas, having led the nation's art world for several centuries prior. There was a re-connection within Europe in the 19th century between art and nature, with an influx of printed Japanese paintings arriving at an opportune moment.

Innovative Oeuvre

Hiroshige was not interested in covering the same content of some of the other famous names working within the Edo period. Aside from Hokusai, many were focusing on the lives and times of society within an urban environment. Hiroshige did not see beauty in this and his use of people within his work was normally in the foreground to sprawling landscape scenes. Nature was always his many driver and this perhaps explains why colour became such an important consideration to him.

His gradients of colour would normally be placed at the bottom of his compositions or on specific features, such as expanses of water or sky in order to add interest. Europeans would tend to avoid such large areas of single colour by incorporating clouds, and whilst their solutions were different, the challenge posed to them all was much the same. It would only be in his night scenes that Hiroshige would leave these areas of his compositions in a single tone and this simple flourish helps us to quickly identify his work from the thousands produced in the ukiyo-e era.

Selection of Highlights from his Career

Hiroshige's highlights were featured within several high profile series of work which remain highly celebrated even today. One Hundred Famous Views of Edo is perhaps the best example of this, though there were several others such as The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō (Hōeidō Edition), The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō and Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. He pretty much exhausted the landscape and seascape genres within his career, constantly seeking to find new locations across Japan for his work, and then experimenting with the same feature from different angles and within different conditions.

People rarely feature within these paintings and are perhaps the better for it. He wanted to celebrate the beauty and majesty of nature and would only tend to incorporate human activity where he felt it could be done smoothly. Trees, water and mountains were key, though the variety of angles and perspectives that he used was remarkable.

The Otsuki Plain in Kai Province Hiroshige
The Ōtsuki Plain in Kai Province
Fireworks at Ryōgoku Hiroshige
Fireworks at Ryōgoku
Eight Views of Ōmi Hiroshige
Eight Views of Ōmi
Small View of Yedo Hiroshige
Small View of Yedo
Plum Estate, Kameido Hiroshige
Plum Estate, Kameido
Suruga-chō Hiroshige
Nihonbashi Bridge in the Morning Snow Hiroshige
Nihonbashi Bridge in the Morning Snow (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo)
Suijin Shrine and Massaki on the Sumidagawa River Hiroshige
Suijin Shrine and Massaki on the Sumidagawa River (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo)
Man on Horseback Crossing a Bridge Hiroshige
Man on Horseback Crossing a Bridge
Evening Snow at Kanbara Hiroshige
Evening Snow at Kanbara
Kiyomizu Hall and Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Hiroshige
Kiyomizu Hall and Shinobazu Pond at Ueno (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo)
Suidobashi Bridge and Surugadai Hiroshige
Suidobashi Bridge and Surugadai (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo)
Mannen Bridge, Fukagawa Hiroshige
Mannen Bridge, Fukagawa
Sakanoshita: the Throwing Away the Brush Peak Hiroshige
Sakanoshita: the Throwing Away the Brush Peak
Bridge of Senju Hiroshige
Bridge of Senju (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo)
Bow Moon Hiroshige
Bow Moon
The Autumn Moon at Ishiyama Hiroshige
The Autumn Moon at Ishiyama
The Wild Geese Returning Home at Katata Hiroshige
The Wild Geese Returning Home at Katata
Atagoyama Mountain in Shiba Hiroshige
Atagoyama Mountain in Shiba (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo)