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Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重)

Hiroshige, in full Andō Hiroshige, professional names Utagawa Hiroshige and Ichiyūsai Hiroshige, original name Andō Tokutarō, (born 1797, Edo [now Tokyo], Japan - died October 12, 1858, Edo), Japanese artist, one of the last great ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating world") masters of the colour woodblock print.
His genius for landscape compositions was first recognized in the West by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.
His print series Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō (1833-34) is perhaps his finest achievement.
Hiroshige was the son of Andō Genemon, warden of the Edo fire brigade. Various episodes indicate that the young Hiroshige was fond of sketching and probably had the tutelage of a fireman who had studied under a master of the traditional Kanō school of painting.
In the spring of 1809, when Hiroshige was 12 years of age, his mother died.

Memorial portrait of Hiroshige by Kunisada

Shortly after, his father resigned his post, passing it on to his son.
Early the following year, his father died as well. Hiroshige’s actual daily duties as a fire warden were minimal, and his wages were small.

Undoubtedly, these factors, plus his own natural bent for art, eventually led him to enter, about 1811, the school of the ukiyo-e master Utagawa Toyohiro.
Hiroshige is said to have first applied to the school of the more popular artist Utagawa Toyokuni, a confrere of Toyohiro.
Had Hiroshige been accepted as a pupil by Toyokuni, he might well have ended his days as a second-rate imitator of that artist’s gaudy prints of girls and actors.
It was doubtless the more modest and refined taste of Toyohiro that helped form Hiroshige’s own style - and led his genius eventually to find full expression in the new genre of the landscape print.

Although receiving a nom d’artiste and a school license at the early age of 15, Hiroshige was no child prodigy, and it was not until six years later, in 1818, that his first published work appeared. In the field of book illustration, it bore the signature Ichiyūsai Hiroshige.

No earlier signed works are extant, but it is likely that, during this student period, Hiroshige did odd jobs (e.g., inexpensive fan paintings) for the Toyohiro studio and also studied, on his own, the Chinese-influenced Kanō style and the impressionistic Shijō style - both of which were to strongly influence his later work.

As soon as he was able, Hiroshige transferred to his own son the post of fire warden and devoted himself to his art. As is customary with artists of the plebeian ukiyo-e school, early biographical material regarding Hiroshige is scarce: he and his confreres were considered to be only artisans by the Japanese society of the time, and, although their works were widely enjoyed and sometimes even treasured, there was little interest in the personal details of their careers. Thus, Hiroshige’s adult years must be traced largely through his works.

Hiroshige’s artistic life may be characterized in several stages. The first was his student period, from about 1811-1830, when he largely followed the work of his elders in the field of figure prints - girls, actors, and samurai, or warriors.
The second was his first landscape period, from 1830-1844, when he created his own romantic ideal of landscape design and bird-and-flower prints and brought them to full fruition with his famed Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō and other series of prints depicting landscape vistas in Japan.
His last stage was his later period of landscape and figure-with-landscape designs, from 1844-1858, during which overpopularity and overproduction tended to diminish the quality of his work.

Hiroshige’s great talent developed in the 1830s. In 1832 he made a trip between Edo and Kyōto along the famed highway called the Tōkaidō; he stayed at the 53 overnight stations along the road and made numerous sketches of everything he saw.
He published a series of 55 landscape prints titled Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō - one for each station, as well as the beginning of the highway and the arrival in Kyōto. The success of this series was immediate and made Hiroshige one of the most popular ukiyo-e artists of all time.
He made numerous other journeys within Japan and issued such series of prints as Famous Places in Kyōto (1834), Eight Views of Lake Biwa (1835), Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaidō (c. 1837) and One Hundred Views of Edo (1856-58). He repeatedly executed new designs of the 53 Tōkaidō views in which he employed his unused sketches of previous years.

It has been estimated that Hiroshige created more than 5,000 prints and that as many as 10,000 copies were made from some of his woodblocks.
Hokusai, Hiroshige’s early contemporary, was the innovator of the pure landscape print. Hiroshige, who followed him, was a less-striking artistic personality but frequently achieved equivalent masterpieces in his own calm manner.
Possessing the ability to reduce the pictured scene to a few simple, highly decorative elements, Hiroshige captured the very essence of what he saw and turned it into a highly effective composition.
There was in his work a human touch that no artist of the school had heretofore achieved; his pictures revealed a beauty that seemed somehow tangible and intimate. Snow, rain, mist, and moonlight scenes compose some of his most poetic masterpieces.

Hiroshige’s life was his work, with neither peaks nor valleys. He leaves the impression of a largely self-taught artist who limited himself to the devices and capacity of his own nature. Hiroshige was fond of travel, loved wine and good food, and in his other tastes was a true citizen of Edo. He died in the midst of a cholera epidemic. | © Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Utagawa Hiroshige is recognized as a master of the ukiyo-e woodblock printing tradition, having created 8,000 prints of everyday life and landscape in Edo-period Japan with a splendid, saturated ambience.
Orphaned at 12, Hiroshige began painting shortly thereafter under the tutelage of Toyohiro of the Utagawa school.
His early work of narrow, vertical landscapes picturing thatched houses nestled between cliffs and vignettes of birds perched on flowering branches shows the influence of Chinese scroll painting as well as the previously dominant Kanō school of Japanese painting.

Much of Hiroshige’s work focuses on landscape. Partly inspired by Katsushika Hokusai’s popular "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Hiroshige took a softer", less formal approach with his Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido (1833–34), completed after traveling that coastal route linking Edo and Kyoto.
Mountains grow green and bands of salmon-colored sunrise hang in the mist in prints like Maisaka—No. 31, where traders and farmers mundanely pass by in the foreground.

Hiroshige’s prolific output was somewhat due to his being paid very little per series. Still, this did not deter him, as he receded to Buddhist monkhood in 1856 to complete his brilliant and lasting "One Hundred Famous Views of Edo" (1856–58).
He died in 1858, 10 years before Monet, Van Gogh, Whistler, and a host of Impressionist painters became eager collectors of Japanese art. And so Hiroshige’s surging bokashi, or varied gradient printing, lives on—visibly influencing artists like Paul Gauguin (see the Art Institute’s Mahana no atua, 1894) and Frank Lloyd Wright. | © The Art Institute of Chicago

HIROSHIGE - Paesista Giapponese, nato a Edo (Tōkyō) nel 1797, morto ivi di colera il 12 ottobre 1858. Appartenne alla scuola di Ukiyo-ye e fu allievo di Toyohiro: risentì quindi l'influenza dell'arte di Buson, pittore e poeta appartenente a una delle scuole classiche. Esordì come illustratore di libri, ma pubblicò anche incisioni con figure muliebri.
Il suo vero genio si rivelò intorno al 1826, quando eseguì una serie di stampe colorate: Vedute di Yedo serie che fu seguita da molte altre, la più nota delle quali è la Tōkaidō, 55 vedute della strada maestra che da Yedo conduce a Kyōto (1834).
Hiroshige eseguì altre serie della Tōkaidō, un gruppo di vedute (circa 1839) della Kisokaidō (la strada alpestre fra le due capitali) che contiene alcuni dei suoi migliori disegni e numerose altre serie, vedute di Kyōto, ecc., delle quali quella delle otto vedute del Lago Biwa (Omi Hakkei) è la più fine.
Nel 1841,1852,1854, riportò numerosi disegni da un giro in provincia (cinque suoi albi al British Museum). Prima del 1852 le sue stampe avevano formato orizzontale, salvo alcuni stretti pannelli con uccelli e fiori e ampî paesaggi a forma di kakemono, ma dal 1852 fino alla morte preferì il formato verticale.

La serie più nota di quegli anni è Le cento vedute di Edo.
Nell'ultimo periodo il suo stile muta, divenendo più spedito e superficiale, il che ha indotto alcuni critici a supporre, però senza alcun fondamento, che dopo il 1852 le stampe firmate Hiroshige siano del secondo Hiroshige, genero ed allievo del primo. Fra le ultime stampe ve ne sono di finissime per disegno, ma nell'ultima serie si nota una decisa decadenza (46 vedute di Fuji).

Prima di Hiroshige i paesisti giapponesi preferivano abitualmente, alle patrie, vedute cinesi: egli fu il primo ad interpretare con singolare maestria la bellezza del proprio paese.
Anche Hokusai dipinse scene giapponesi, con stile prettameute personale, ma trascurava l'atmosfera, ricercando persino nel paesaggio motivi drammatici ed eroici.
Con sentimento profondo ed intimo Hiroshige riprodusse i varî aspetti del Giappone, fu particolarmente il pittore della pioggia e della neve.
Nessun maestro giapponese influì altrettanto sull'arte occidentale. | © Treccani, Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana