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Utagawa Hiroshige : Sensei of Japanese Embossments.

April 18, 2013

What about a little bit of painting today ?

Let’s focus on Ukiyo-e, the most prolific and famous Japanese pictural movement. It consists in embossments painted and graved on wood representing all forms of subjects in the early XIXth Japan.

One of the most famous painter of this art is Utagawa Hiroshige. With Katsushika Hokusai; he is one the last grand master of the movement.

Born in 1797 and active since 1818, he was very proflic : he painted more than 5400 embossments ! As a consequence, he started very young. After the death of his two parents at 14, he took his father’s fireman office. During leisure time, he sank deeply in his passion, painting, and joined Utagawa Toyohiro workshop : it’s the beginning of his career.

Until 1829, he devoted himself to painting portraits of women, actors and warriors. But with the death of his master and the arrival of Hokusai, he turned to landscape painting. It will be his speciality and the reason for his worldwide celebrity.

His first famous work is The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō (1833-1834). It consists in fifty three landscape paintings, one for each station of the Tokaido Road, which links the shogun capital Edo to the imperial capital Kyoto. The painter captures the mountains, the seas, the paths and all forms of human activities of those days. Here are some examples :

tokaido 2

tokaido 1

Besides these splendid paintings of  nature, Hiroshige also catches the urban life in his One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1856-1858). Edo is the former Tokyo and Hiroshige painted in all 119 views of the prosperous city. The series is divided in four parts : one for each season. Thus we pass from spring sunset to autumn city nights, from heavy summer shower to wide snowed bridge in the deep winter. In this series, he didn’t only paint beautiful landscapes of the city but also the human life in whole definition : merchants, pedestrians, priests, prostitutes, etc… Here are some samples :

edo 1

edo 2


edo 3edo 4


If you like the movement, you can complete your Ukiyo-e culture with The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō from the same painter and the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai with the famous The Great Wave off Kanagawa.


You can also have a look on the different period of the Ukiyo-e and see the progression.


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