Ando Hiroshige’s Ukiyo-e Style Wood Block Prints

Ando Hiroshige, also known as Utagawa Hiroshige, is a well known Japanese artist who primarily made wood block prints in the ukiyo-e style and is considered to be a master woodblock printer. His work had a strong influence on western impressionist and post-impressionist painters such as Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh is known to have painted copies of Hiroshige’s images. Van Gogh’s paintings titled “Bridge In The Rain” (oil on canvas, 1887) and “Flowering Plum Tree” (1887) are his versions of Hiroshige prints. Hiroshige is known for using seasonal allusions, striking colors and unusual vantage points in his imagery.

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Ukiyo-e is a genre of painting and woodblock printing that was produced for the Edo period (1603-1867) merchant class. Popular themes of Ukiyo-e prints include sumo wrestlers, kabuki actors, historical scenes, flora, fauna and landscapes. Ukiyo translates to “floating world,” which in this context means a care free life of living only for the moment. “Dawn at Futami-ga-ura” by Kunisada is an excellent example of a 19th century Ukiyo-e print. Depicted in this print is the sun rising from the ocean horizon and spreading beams of light across the sky. All of this is viewed from a sandy shore with two mounds rising from it and a rope bridge tied between them.

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Hiroshige studied under Toyohiro of the Utagawa school beginning around 1810. By the year 1812 he was considered competent enough to be allowed to sign his prints. He didn’t begin creating his most well known landscape work until 1829. His first series was titled eight views of Omi. A print titled “The Autumn Moon at Ishiyama,”is one of the eight views of Omi. This print depicts the view from the Ishiyama Temple that is situated on a hillside by the Seta-river. The temple acquired its name from the unusual rocks that make up the hill on which it is built.

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The Utagawa school stood at the forefront of 19th century wood block printing and was best known for prints of historical places and actors. During the 19th century, the demand for prints skyrocketed. In order to fulfill this demand, artists produced larger and larger series’ of prints. The series titled “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” is an example of a large series of prints because, as the name suggests, it contains one hundred prints. Earlier print series’ typically consisted of around ten prints.

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In 1831, Hiroshige traveled along the Tokiado route which links what is modern day Tokyo with Kyoto. Throughout his travels, he made numerous sketches of the landscape. Upon returning to Edo, (modern day Tokyo) he proceeded to produce the series titled “The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokiado.” “Rain Shower at Shono” is print number 46 in the series and a beautiful example of Hiroshige’s landscape work. This print depicts people in the foreground and trees in the background bent against a gray torrential rain storm.

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