Utagawa Hiroshige was a Japanese woodblock artist whose success is legendary. His prolific career yielded thousands of images which influenced artists internationally.
Hiroshige was born to a fireman father in 1797. His mother died when he was twelve years old and his father died the following year. At fourteen, he joined the school of ukiyo-e (woodblock printing) master Toyohiro. He remained at this studio until he eventually took it over following Toyohiro's death in 1828.
In 1818, Hiroshige published his first book illustration. From the beginning of his career until 1830, his art focused mainly on figural work. Like many ukiyo-e artists, he portrayed girls and women, actors and warriors. In the 1830s, his subject matter broadened and he began to produce images of landscape and nature, a style by which he achieved great fame. In 1833-34, he created Fifty-three Stations on the Tokaido which represented a journey he took as a government official to the imperial court in Kyoto. On this mission, Hiroshige had been commissioned to provide sketches / drawings of the ceremonies.
Perhaps the success of Hiroshige’s commissioned work inspired him to continue traveling. In 1841, he journeyed through Kai, and in 1852, he visited the provinces of Kazusa and Awa. He visited Kyoto for the second time in 1854. Each trip yielded a series of greatly admired woodblock prints which represented the places he had visited.
In his late career, landscape became the central focus of Hiroshige's work. More specifically, he was interested in portraying one particular landscape at different times of day and year as well as in different weather. He wanted to show the subtle changes in nature, and it was his ability to demonstrate such phenomena that garnered him great fame and respect.
Throughout his lifetime, Hiroshige produced over 5,400 woodblock prints and reached outstanding levels of success. His influence on the world of art was far-reaching. He had a profound impact on many Western artists, particularly the Impressionists. Vincent Van Gogh acquired a great number of his pictures. Hiroshige died in 1858 but his influence has shaped the art world.