Utagawa Hiroshige: 10 Works From the Last Great Master of Ukiyo-e

Utagawa Hiroshige is considered the last great master of ukiyo-e, a genre of Japanese art prominent from the 17th through the 19th century.

Jun 27, 2024By Elizabeth Berry, BA English, Italian, & Writing Seminars

utagawa hiroshige ukiyo e master

 

Utagawa Hiroshige, born Andō Tokutarō (1791-1858) was a ukiyo-e artist who created some of the most iconic and recognizable artworks from the genre. The term ukiyo-e translates as pictures of the floating world, and Hiroshige was one of the last artists to flourish within the movement. Known for the careful technique employed and masterful color gradation present in his woodblock prints, Hiroshige created several series of artworks that remain well known to this day, including The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido and One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.

 

1. Plum Garden at Kameido (1857)

Plum Garden at Kameido by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Source: Art Institute Chicago

 

Plum Garden at Kameido (1857) is one of Hiroshige’s most famous and recognizable prints, featuring a close-up of a Japanese plum tree and vibrant colors. This woodblock print stands out on its own but is especially well-known due to Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh’s reproduction of this work titled Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige) (1887).

 

This print is from Hiroshige’s series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, a series of woodblock prints showcasing scenes from around Edo (modern-day Tokyo). The tree shown in this particular print was the most famous in the city at the time, known as the sleeping dragon plum. The sleeping dragon plum was located in the Kameido area of Edo, on the bank of the Sumida River, and was said to have white blossoms powerful enough to ward off darkness.

 

2. Maiko Beach in Harima Province (c. 1853)

Maiko Beach in Harima Province by Utagawa Hiroshige, c.1853, from Views of Famous Places in the Sixty-Odd Provinces. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

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Another stunning print of Hiroshige’s heavily featuring trees, Maiko Beach in Harima Province (c.1853) is another notable piece from the artist’s catalog. The great detail in which Hiroshige depicted the roots on the pine trees is remarkable here, as is the proximity of the trees to the water. This woodblock print is from Hiroshige’s series Views of Famous Places in the Sixty-Odd Provinces, which consisted of a noteworthy view from each of Japan’s sixty-eight provinces as well as a view from Edo and a table of contents. The province depicted here, Harima Province, is located on Japan’s most populous island, Honshū. Hiroshige selected the Maiko Park, or Maiko Beach, as the most famous place in the province as it was known for its pine forest.

 

3. The Sea off Satta (c. 1858)

The Sea off Satta by Utagawa Hiroshige, c. 1858, from 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Hiroshige’s The Sea off Satta (c.1858) is a notable print from his series 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is the tallest and most famous mountain in Japan, an active stratovolcano located on the island of Honshū approximately 100 kilometers from Tokyo. This print is inspired by the prominent ukiyo-e print The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai and shows a view of Mount Fuji from Satta Pass. The wave depicted here mirrors the cliff on the other side of the print, bringing the idea of the duality of nature to the forefront of this piece.

 

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

Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Source: Brooklyn Museum, New York

 

Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (1857) is another celebrated print from Hiroshige’s series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. This beautiful work depicts a torrent of thick summer rain over the Shin-Ohashi bridge, which is still standing today and stretches over the Sumida River in Tokyo. Vincent van Gogh was also famously inspired by this piece to create Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige) in 1887.

 

5. A Snowy Evening at Kambara Station (c. 1833-34)

A Snowy Evening at Kambara Station by Utagawa Hiroshige, c.1833-34, from Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

A Snowy Evening at Kambara Station (c.1833-34) is an incredible winter scene from another Hiroshige series titled Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido. During the Edo period, the Tokaido road was the most important road in Japan as it connected the prominent cities of Kyoto and Edo. This road had fifty-three post stations where travelers could rest and documentation could be checked by government officials. After traveling the Tokaido in 1832, Hiroshige was inspired to create a print commemorating each of its post stations.

 

6. Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival (1857)

Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Source: Brooklyn Museum, New York

 

Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival (1857) is a charming scene from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo showcasing the view from the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, a government-licensed center for restaurants, prostitution, theater, and more. Though this scene takes place on one of the busiest days of the year for the brothel at Yoshiwara, it is pleasant and tranquil, showing a cat watching the festival procession out the window with Mount Fuji in the background.

 

7. Horikiri Iris Garden (1857)

Horikiri Iris Garden by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Source: Brooklyn Museum, New York

 

Horikiri Iris Garden (1857) is a lovely print from Hiroshige’s Views of Edo series, showcasing irises, a flower that Japan is famous for cultivating. In Japanese culture, these beautiful flowers are representative of clarity and kindness. The garden pictured here is Horikiri Shobuen, a small garden located in the center of Tokyo (Edo at the time) that is still popular today. Each year, more than 6,000 iris flowers from more than 200 species bloom in this stunning garden.

 

8. Naruto Whirlpools, Awa Province (1853)

Naruto Whirlpool, Awa Province by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1853, from Views of Famous Places in the Sixty-Odd Provinces. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Naruto Whirlpools, Awa Province (1853) is one of Hiroshige’s most iconic prints, complete with vivid colors and a dramatic, swirling sea. The scene in this piece is of the Naruto whirlpools, a collection of naturally occurring tidal whirlpools in the Naruto Strait between Tokushima Prefecture and Awaji Island in Japan. The wide vortices created by the fast current rushing through the narrow channel are striking, and it is easy to see why Hiroshige selected this location as a subject for his Views of Famous Places in the Sixty-Odd Provinces series.

 

9. Kano on the Kisokaido (c. 1835-37)

Kano on the Kisokaido by Utagawa Hiroshige, c.1835-37, from The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Another stunning landscape by Utagawa Hiroshige is Kano on the Kisokaido (c.1835-37). There are many figures in this print, as it contains a depiction of the Daimyo’s procession, complete with travelers kneeling on the side of the road to show respect. The Daimyo were the most powerful magnates in Japan for centuries, engaging in landholding activities on behalf of the shogun. This view is part of a series titled The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido, which was a collaboration between Hiroshige and fellow ukiyo-e artist Keisai Eisen. The series aimed to showcase daily life and views on the Kiso highway, which was the main road along the mountains between Edo and Kyoto. The daimyo procession shown here is an example of a typical scene along this road.

 

10. Hakone, View of the Lake (c.1832-33)

Hakone, View of the Lake by Utagawa Hiroshige, c.1832-33, from Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido. Source: Minneapolis Institute of Art

 

This last woodblock print by Hiroshige, Hakone, View of the Lake (c.1832-33), is one of his most colorful and dramatic scenes in the series Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido. Although the title suggests this is near the Hakone checkpoint along the road, the exact view that may have inspired Hiroshige to create this piece has never been found. Parts of the view constructed here may be greatly exaggerated, or even imaginary. The figures in this print are hard to notice at first as they blend into the natural environment, but there are a number of figures with wide-brimmed hats visible traveling through the pass. It is possible that this could be the procession of a feudal Japanese lord.

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By Elizabeth BerryBA English, Italian, & Writing SeminarsElizabeth Berry is a writer from Los Angeles, California. She holds a BA in English, Italian, and Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University, and is working towards her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews. In her spare time, she writes articles about Italian art, culture, and literature. She loves golden retrievers, the color fuchsia, and kayaking.