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ANDO HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Ando Hiroshige was the most popular landscape artist in Tokugawa Japan. He was born in 1797 as the son of a low-ranking samurai in the service of the firefighter assigned to Edo Castle, the shogun's residence. Within the rigid class system, Hiroshige had inherited the post from his father. At the age of 13 - the usual age in feudal Japan to start a career or apprenticeship - Hiroshige became a student of the Toyohiro Utagawa, a famous painter. In 1812 Hiroshige took his teacher's name and began to sign his works Utagawa Hiroshige. Between 1811 and 1830, Hiroshige created images with traditional motifs, such as young women and actors, but after 1930 he became most famous for his landscapes.

Hiroshige depicted everyday landscapes as intimate, lyrical scenes. This made him even more successful than his then contemporary artist colleague Hokusai (known today for "Libra"/”Vågen”) It has been said that it was Hokusai's images that first made Hiroshige want to become an artist. The popular Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series by Hokusai had a great influence on Hiroshige's choice of motifs, although Hiroshige's were more poetic than Hokusai, who was bolder. Hiroshige and Hokusai were two of the foremost artists in the ukiyo-e world during the first half of the 19th century. Hiroshige's works may not have been as powerful or innovative as Hokusais, but in a poetic and delicate way, Hiroshige captured the mindset of the Japanese landscape.

Hiroshige's masterpiece, the series of fifty-three stations along Tokaido Road (scenes from the Edo-Kyoto highway) came in 1833. After that, Hiroshige continued with high-quality image suites of a similar style. The topics in his work were atypical for the ukiyo-e genre, whose motives often were beautiful women, popular actors and other scenes from the entertainment district during the Edo period (1603-1868).

Hiroshige produced or contributed to many fine image suites, such as "The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō" and "The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō". The most popular theme was Tokaido Road, the first series published in 1833. One of his subsequent picture suites from 1855 with the nickname Upright Tokaido, is considered by some to be his finest series.

Hiroshige is one of the most important Japanese artists ever; his work affected not only future generations of Japanese artists, but also many great Western artists, including Van Gogh, Monet, Gauguin, Degas and Whistler. Hiroshige's work came to have a significant influence on Western painting and was part of the trend in Japaneseism. The Western artists studied Hiroshige's compositions, and some, for example, van Gogh, painted copies of Hiroshige's images.

In 1858 Hiroshige died in cholera. For researchers and collectors, Hiroshige's death marks the beginning of a rapid decline in the ukiyo-e genre, especially in the face of Western influence that resulted from the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

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