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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.
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.