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Utagawa Hiroshige Photo

Utagawa Hiroshige

Japanese Woodblock artist

Born: 1797 - Edo (Now Tokyo), Japan
Died: 1858 - Edo
Movements and Styles:
Ukiyo-e Japanese Woodblock Prints

Summary of Utagawa Hiroshige

Utagawa Hiroshige is known as the last great master in Japanese traditional woodblock printing, imbuing the Japanese landscape with a lyricism that drew upon the fleeting nature of sensual pleasure. Hiroshige's prints memorialized everyday life in the late Edo period, in which travel and entertainment became more widely available to the middle-class, and presented a vision of the country in which the changing of the seasons, and the associated festivities, were central. This vision of Japan, heightened by Hiroshige's lush colors and unconventional approach to composition, had widespread appeal within Japan and abroad, with European artists adopting both his bright colors and his themes, transposing his interest in the ephemeral into other settings.


  • While Hiroshige was very prolific and made prints on a range of subjects, it is his landscapes, particularly those of his series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, that had the most impact. Hiroshige interpreted famous sites through the lens of everyday experience, rather than literary, historical or imperial significance, giving his prints a mass appeal and allowing the Japanese public to feel emotionally involved with their native landscape.
  • Hiroshige captured the idea of a 'floating world,' from which the term ukiyo-e derived, through attention to the transient pleasures of secular life rather than, as had been the case prior to the Edo period, philosophical detachment rooted in Buddhism. The mood of his prints draws strongly from his focus on seasonal phenomena, fleeting weather conditions or festivities that marked the passing of time. Hiroshige's prints offered a lasting record of experiences that otherwise disappeared quickly.
  • Hiroshige's work, alongside that of Katsushika Hokusai, popularized Japanese art and aesthetics in Europe. Hiroshige's bright colors and attention to the passing of time had a strong impact on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, while his bold lines representing trees and flowers had a strong influence on Art Nouveau design.

Biography of Utagawa Hiroshige

Detail of <i>Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (Ohashi Atake no Yudachi)</i> (1857) from the series <i>One Hundred Famous Views of Edo</i>

"I envy the Japanese for the enormous clarity that pervades their work," wrote Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo in 1888. "They draw a figure with a few well-chosen lines as if it were as effortless as buttoning up one's waistcoat."

Progression of Art

Station of Ōtsu (c. 1840)
c. 1840

Station of Ōtsu

This print, from Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido, depicts Ōtsu, one of the busier stations where travelers rested and refueled along the route. The station is shown from above, with the road diagonally bisecting the image. Hiroshige's image focuses on human activity in Ōtsu. The eye is drawn first to the group walking at the center of the image, led by a porter with a large bundle on his back, leaning forward. Behind him, one woman turns to talk to another, while a second porter brings up the party's rear. On either side of the road, wooden structures frame other scenes from the everyday life of the traveler. In the upper left corner, a woman in traditional dress passes a rolled print to a man in sumptuous robes while a younger figure, nearby, points toward something else, outside the frame, available at the same stall. At the lower edge of the frame, toward the centre, three people appear to be fighting or attempting to stop a man from running away. Further right, a man in simple clothes leads an ox, carrying firewood. The color palette is limited, with the road and its structures rendered in subdued green, beige and yellow while the figures, beige or white, wear brighter robes of blue, green and red.

This print allows its audience to experience the Tokaido in the same way as a traveler might, taking a voyeuristic thrill in the range of lives encountered, from wealthy leisure travelers to humbler workers and possible thieves. This sense of the viewer as a spectator is accentuated by the aerial perspective from which Hiroshige depicts the scene, allowing the audience to look in upon it from above. Hiroshige's cropping and use of diagonals contributes to the vibrancy of the composition. The central diagonal, around which the scene's action revolves, encourages the eye to move quickly around the print, evoking the sense of lively motion a traveler might experience along the Tokaido. The figures hint at narratives, provoking curiosity in the viewer, but Hiroshige's cropping leaves their next moves unknown, heightening dynamism.

Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper - The Met

Naruto Whirlpool, Awa Province (c. 1853)
c. 1853

Naruto Whirlpool, Awa Province

This print shows waves crashing and foaming over rocks, with a whirlpool in the foreground and a peaceful scene of mountain and shoreline in the background, framed by the water. The scene depicts the changing of the tide in the Straits of Naruto, between the islands of Shikoku and Awaji; as the tide changed, water trapped between rocks would form dramatic whirlpools and waves. The print is in ōban [portrait] format, unusually for a landscape, which heightens the tension and dynamism and directs the eye to the whirlpool occupying the lower third of the image. The rocks, from this vantage point, are large and dominate the middle third, while the foaming water that leaps from them serves to frame the landscape beyond, across which a flock of birds fly.

Naruto Whirlpool, Awa Province illustrates a significant turning point in Hiroshige's practice, with greater emphasis placed on the landscape than the figures within that landscape. There are, unusually, no figures within this print, leading the audience to scale nature in relation to themselves rather than to illustrated figures, further drawing them into the scene. The tightness of the composition, rendered vertically, heightens the audience's engagement. Hiroshige had never visited the Naruto Strait; it is likely that he based this print on existing images. The clearest debt, however, is not to an image of the Naruto strait, but to Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa (1839), which had become iconic by the 1850s. Hiroshige distinguishes his image of the sea's power through his emphasis on the whirlpool and rocks and their contrast with the peaceful sky and low-lying landscape beyond, facilitated by the portrait format where Hokusai uses a traditional landscape format. Naruto Whirlpool, Awa Province, is also distinctly modern in coloring. Hiroshige deploys Prussian Blue, a relatively new product to Japan associated with the country's increased global engagement, and takes advantage of this blue through the bokashi effect, using different shades to render fine gradations of color in the sky and the sea.

Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper - The Met

Kinryūzan Temple, Asakusa (1856)

Kinryūzan Temple, Asakusa

This snow scene is from Hiroshige's significant series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, which captured well-known locations across the new capital. Kinryūzan Temple, or Senso-ji, is the oldest and most venerable Buddhist temple in Edo. This print, in the oban format, is framed on the left by the bright red entrance gate, which stands out against the white and grey snow, as do the red temple structures at the center and right edge of the image. The center is dominated by a group of trees, white with snow, lining the path that leads to the temple, along which a range of small figures move away from the viewer, their heads concealed by large parasols. The upper third of the image is dominated by a large lantern, rendered with considerable detail in red and black.

This print shows the ways in which Hiroshige combined European and Japanese influences. While earlier images utilize traditional bird's eye views, Kinryūzan Temple, Asakusa instead uses central perspective, introduced to Japan through European anatomical and surgical books, to create a sense of depth. Hiroshige's lyricism and ability to convey subjectivity are also clear in this image; the contrast between the bright red and the overwhelming areas of white and grey create a sense of peacefulness and evoke the magical, muffling dimension of heavy snow. Hiroshige's vertical composition allows the audience to find themselves in the scene, positioning them as if peeking through the gate toward the temple; the contrast between the detailed lantern and the simple lines of the roofs beguiles the viewer, creating a poignant, longing mood appropriate for the print's position toward the end of the One Hundred Famous View of Edo series.

Woodblock print - Brooklyn Museum

Plum Estate, Kameido (1857)

Plum Estate, Kameido

Plum Estate, Kameido is the thirtieth print in Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. The colors are striking and unusual; the upper third is dominated by a deep red while the lower third is dominated by a deep green, with touches of blue suggesting shadow, with the middle third of the vertical print acting as a transitional space in which the colors graduate through pink and beige. The image focuses on a group of plum trees and is dominated by the grey trunk of the closest tree, which repeatedly forks, leading the eye upward. In the background are further trees, fences and groups of people picnicking and standing on the grass. The white blossoms of the plum in the foreground unify the top and bottom of the print.

Hiroshige's use of color became more dramatic and daring as his career progressed; the red sky, here, is a divergence from naturalism which serves to emphasize the mood of spring, heightening the audience's sense of nature's splendor and provoking a sense of calm. Hiroshige's masterly use of the bokashi technique allows the transition between the red and the green to occur seamlessly, drawing the viewer's eye through the image. Appreciation of blossoms, in Japanese culture, draws largely from the viewer's knowledge of their fleeting appearance; Hiroshige's dreamlike colors emphasize the brilliance blossom viewing attains in memory. This particular print had a notable effect on European artists, with Édouard Manet's Music in the Tuileries Garden transposing the combination of leisure seekers and tree trunks into a Parisian setting while Vincent van Gogh copied the image in paint and later deployed contrasting colors to evoke a similar dynamism.

Woodblock print - Brooklyn Museum

Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (1857)

Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake

This print shows a group running from a sudden torrent of rain while crossing the Shin-Ohashi Bridge over the Sumida River. The vertical composition is dominated by its diagonals. At the bottom, the bridge stretches from the middle right to the lower left, while the horizon line in the background slants downward from left to right. On the bridge, three figures lean forward, toward the left, to cover their bodies, holding umbrellas above their heads, while three figures moving in the other direction huddle under a shared umbrella and another figure, slightly further forward on the bridge, holds what appears to be a blanket above the body. On the water, a figure can be seen guiding a boat. The distant bank is grey and indistinct and dark clouds gather at the top of the frame. The rain, rendered as straight black lines, falls at a slight angle from these clouds, heightening the sense of chaos while drawing the different areas of the composition together.

This print is fifty-eighth in One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Like others in the group, it is in oban format and adopts an unconventional compositional approach that serves to dramatize the scene. The figures are small and apparently helpless against the storm; the verticality emphasizes the relentless downward drive of the rain, while the use of multiple diagonals, including that of the river itself, creates a sense of disorientation. While the palette is more subdued than others in the series, the contrast between beige and blue causes the bridge to appear as a bright element, heightening the sense of saturation, while the darker hues at the top and bottom of the image serve to keep the audience's attention within the frame.

Woodblock print - Brooklyn Museum

Fireworks at Ryōgoku Bridge (1858)

Fireworks at Ryōgoku Bridge

Fireworks at Ryōgoku Bridge, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, adopts an elevated perspective to show boats and people gathered around and on a long bridge across the Sumida River, watching a display of fireworks in the sky above. The bright blue of the river stands out against the dark browns and greys of the bridge, boats, bank and sky above; red lanterns on the boats in the foreground match the crimson line of a firework arcing upward, leading the eye into the sky, where the right corner fills with starburst shapes in white and red. Hiroshige uses diagonals to draw the viewer's eye into the scene, with the brown bridge dividing the river, occupying the lower third, into two triangular spaces.

This scene would have been recognizable, to contemporary Japanese audiences, as kawabiraki, a festival marking the beginning of boating season. The image captures the fleeting nature of pleasure, pausing a moment - the explosion of fireworks - which typically vanishes as the viewer bears witness to it. Hiroshige was drawn to the ephemeral and transitory, as were others in this period, when ukiyo, or floating world, began to refer less to Buddhist detachment and more to the secular association of beauty with the ephemeral. His elevated perspective heightens the sense of the individual's insignificance in the face of passing time, while the vivid colors and positioning of the viewer outside the scene heightens the poignancy of the moment. This print, like others in the series, had an impact on Western artists; James McNeil Whistler's Nocturne: Black and Gold series borrowed fireworks as subject in depicting the River Thames in London.

Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Similar Art

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Utagawa Hiroshige
Influenced by Artist
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    Katsushika Hotsukai
  • No image available
    Utagawa Kunisada
Friends & Personal Connections
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    Okajima Rinsai
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    Utagawa Toyohiro
Movements & Ideas
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Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Sarah Ingram

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Anna Blair

"Utagawa Hiroshige Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Sarah Ingram
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Anna Blair
Available from:
First published on 09 Apr 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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