An Insight Into Japanese Artist Hiroshige Ahead of Our Exhibition
Running from Saturday 5th January to Thursday 7th February, here at The Japanese Shop we’re incredibly pleased to be a part of RHS Harlow Carr Garden’s Japanese Art Exhibition. Featuring an extensive look at the woodblock print work of the legendary Utagawa Hiroshige, this dedicative display will include 16 replicas of Hiroshige’s most famous flora and fauna pieces, idyllically set to a backdrop of Harlow Carr’s own stunning floral scenery. These incredibly special recreations have been made using the same intricate printing process used by Hiroshige, and will be available on the day to purchase, or simply to view and enjoy.
Hiroshige has long been considered one of the last great masters of this legendary form of Japanese art; keep reading to learn more about one of Japan’s most influential artists!
The 6th of Hiroshige’s ‘8 Views of Omi’; The Wild Geese Returning Home at Katata, 1834
Born in the late 18th century, Utagawa (originally Andō) Hiroshige displayed a fondness for sketching from a young age. Around the year 1811, at the age of roughly 14, and having recently become orphaned, Hiroshige entered the art school of the ukiyo-e master Utagawa Toyohiro. In 1818 at the age of 21 Hiroshige had his first piece of artwork published.
Early biographical information for Hiroshige is scarce, as is commonplace for artists of the Ukiyo-e school, which at the time was viewed as ‘plebeian’. Hiroshige’s history can therefore chiefly be traced through his work, especially as his life centred so heavily around it. A brief timeline of Hiroshige’s work is as follows;
1811 – 1830: following his elders, Hiroshige focused on figure prints, as was the norm for Ukiyo-e artists. These included warriors, actors, girls and samurai.
1830 – 1844: after the death of his tutor Toyohiro, Hiroshige began creating distinctly romantic landscape designs, as well as flower and bird prints. This period is considered the peak of Hiroshige’s work.
1844 – 1858: more landscape and figure-with-landscape designs followed, albeit in generally poorer quality due to high demand and over-production. However, Hiroshige still produced some incredible works in these latter years.
Hiroshige showed an undeniably human touch and calmness in his work that seems to reflect his personality. What little else we know was that Hiroshige’s artistry was largely self-taught. He possessed a clear fondness for travel, wine and good food, and was through and through a citizen of Edo, showing the beauty of his home to the rest of the world in a revolutionary and inimitable way.
Hiroshige never achieved great fortune through his work, earning only twice the wage of a common labourer, despite his widespread admiration. In latter years he amassed his own students, before becoming a Buddhist monk (where he still practiced his artistry). Hiroshige passed away in 1858 during Japan’s great cholera epidemic, although he lives immortally through his work, with his 5000+ prints maintaining their popularity still to this day.
The 10th of Hiroshige’s ‘Fifty-three Stations of Tokaido’; Hakone (Highrocks by a lake), 1832
Hiroshige is considered the last great master of Ukiyo-e; the ‘pictures of the floating world’ tradition, which created woodblock prints on a variety of subjects. The most common scenes depicted within this tradition were female beauties, sumo wrestlers, kabuki actors, folk tales, historical scenes, landscapes, erotica, and flora and fauna. Together, they embody an artistic representation of the hedonistic lifestyle which emerged as a direct result of 17th century Japan’s flourishing economy under the time’s Edo government. Ukiyo-e started with Moronobu’s work in the 1670s, continuing via a handful of other recognised artists through the 1700s, and culminating with Hiroshige and Hokusai in the 1800s. The art form rapidly declined following the reinstating of imperial rule in the 1868 Meiji Restorations.
Remembered extremely fondly for his serene, atmospheric landscape pieces, including such renowned works as ‘The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido‘ (pictured above) and ‘One Hundred Famous Views of Edo‘, Hiroshige’s unparalleled work recorded 19th century Japan’s daily tasks and jaw-dropping scenery like no other, preserving it forever in the process.
And whilst growing westernisation marked the decline of Ukiyo-e, the tradition ironically lead to the birth of Japonism, an aesthetic cult which majorly impacted, amongst other areas, both impressionist and post-impressionist painting, influencing everyone from Monet to Van Gogh – the latter even recreated some of Hiroshige’s works himself! – and helped showcase Japan to the world in a new light.
Despite focusing on landscapes, Hiroshige’s collection of bird and flower prints is equally notable, and just as stunning; 16 of these prints will be showcased at Harlow Carr.
Recreation of ‘Pheasant and Chrsyanthemums‘
Opening hours for the exhibition will be 10am-3pm throughout the period of Saturday 5th January to Thursday 7th February. The Japanese Shop will also be hosting a pop up shop at the event, selling an array of high quality, authentic Japanese goods. Please don’t hesitate to contact our team with any further questions you have regarding the event. The exhibition looks to be a truly unique experience; we hope to see you there! In the meantime, you can browse our own selection of authentic Japanese woodblock prints by Hiroshige, as well as those which will be displayed at Harlow Carr.