HIROSHIGE I (1797-1858)
His father was the third son of Tokuyemon Tanaka, a teacher of archery in Edo, who was formerly a page-in-waiting of the daimyo of the Tsugaru clan. Later, he was adopted into the family of Ando, taking the new name of Genyemon Ando. Genyemon held an official position which appears to have been of the kind that, in the close-knit social system of old Japan, was confined to the members of particular families--the hikeshi--dooshin--or fire police. Hiroshige's family, then, were of a humble station in life. The firemen were officials of sorts and as such had some measure of authority and influence as compared with unofficial persons of their grade in the Japanese social scheme--influence, which later on, was serviceable to the artist as to procure for him the opportunity of making his first journey over the Tokaido (the road which extended from Kyoto to Tokyo in the 1800s).
The duties had become almost nominal in the general slackness which characterized the last phase of the Tokugawa Regime and it is related that these fire-police occupied most of their time in amusements or in the practice of easy arts. Thus, some achieved a reputation as amateur artists. In this environment, Hiroshige was born in the 9th year of the Period Kwansei (A.D. 1797). In the normal course of events, Hiroshige--or to give him the name that belongs to this period, Tokutaro Ando--would have followed, throughout his life, his father's occupation; and the world would have lost, thereby, a great artist. But in 1809 both his father and mother died. He had, almost from infancy, displayed his inclination toward art, and his father had arranged for him to have lessons from a friend and neighbor, an amateur painter, Okajima Rensai. In his 15th year, he wanted to become a pupil of Toyokuni, but the studio of that great artist, then at its height of popularity, could not accommodate him and he joined that of Toyohiro, who had been a pupil of Toyokuni under Toyoharu. Here he progressed so rapidly that within a short space of a year, his master, in accordance with the custom of the profession, formally admitted him to membership of the Utagawa fraternity, his diploma in Toyohiro's own writing giving him the artist-name of Utagawa Hiroshige, dated the 9th day of the 3rd month, Period Bunkwa, 9th year. (March 9, 1812).
Hiroshige then had already attained the status of a designer of color-prints in 1812; but he still held the post of fireman, though to what extent he performed his duties we do not know. It was not until 1823 that he resigned his appointment. Before 1823, he married and had a son, Nakajiro. He left the fire brigade and it was filled temporarily by a kinsman, Tetsuzo Ando until in 1832, Nakajiro was old enough to fill it. As Hiroshige himself was only 36 years of age, the duties could not have been so difficult if they could be taken over by a boy as young as Nakajiro must have been.
In the year 1832, Hiroshige made his first trip along the Tokaido Road, from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto, the journey which produced the most famous of all of his works, the first great series of his "Views of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido". It is not unreasonable to assume that now, having provided for his son, he found himself free to wander at will--to devote his life to the occupation that he loved most.
Nakajiro died in 1845, his mother, Hiroshige's first wife, died five years earlier. Hiroshige married again to Yasu and they had a daughter named Tatsu who later became very important in carrying on the family line. The maintenance of the family succession is one of the most cherished traditions of the Japanese and when the direct line fails, (as it did in this case), it was the practice from the the highest to the lowest in the land, to adopt a son who would preserve the ancestral legend. The adopted son who married Tatsu was Shigenobu (Hiroshige II). Tatsu eventually was separated from Shigenobu and married Shigemasu (Hiroshige III). Yasu, his second wife, died in 1876.
Hiroshige's home was in Edo, first at Ogacho, where he moved to Tokiwa-cho in 1846 and again in 1849 to Kano Shinmichi. His residence in Tokyo was enlivened by the journeys he made at various times, journeys which resulted in the accumulation of the material for most of his color-prints. In 184l, he made a trip to Koshu, in the province of Kai. He visited the provinces of Awa and Kadusa in 1853 and on another occasion worked the district around Kominato on the east coast where the Temple of Tanjo-ji is located. It is sacred to the memory of the Nichiren Sect of Buddhism. It was probably on this occasion that he visited Naruto and obtained the material for his famous sketch of this location. His last journey seems to have been in 1854, when he renewed his acquaintance with certain parts of the Tokaido, to inspect and make the survey maps, for the Shogun Government, of several rivers which cross that great highway. A series of fan-prints was the outcome of that trip.
Hiroshige died of cholera in his 62nd year, on the 6th day of the 9th month in the 5th year of Ansei (A.D. 1858). His Memorial Exhibition included a copy of a paper sold giving an account of the well-known people who died in the cholera epidemic of 1858. He was buried in the inner garden of the Togakuji Temple of the Zen sect at Kita-Marsuyamacho, Asakusa, the family temple of the House of Ando.
One of the revelations of the Great Tokaido Series was that Hiroshige was the only Japanese painter-printmaker artist who proved himself an absolutely faithful interpreter of the native scenery. For Hiroshige, in those designs, interprets nature, not in terms of the old Chinese philosophy, but of common humanity. He gave us what any man could see.
During his career, Hiroshige produced sixteen different series entitled Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido, the most famous of which was the one done in 1833-34. His second major series was the Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido, which was the route between Tokyo and Kyoto, but by a longer and entirely inland route of 542 kilometers. Other major series include: Famous Views of the Eastern Capital, Eight Views of Kanazawa, Thirty-six Views of Fuji, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, among others.