The Story of the Three Hiroshiges
Hiroshige is probably one of the most famous Japanese woodblock print artists. But did you know there were 3 Hiroshige’s? This includes the original Hiroshige and his two students that adopted his name. In this article we’ll track down the story behind Hiroshiges I, II and III. We’ll also compare their styles through some of their most famous work.
I think it was this iconic print of the "Asakusa Rice Fields" (below) from Hiroshige’s series 100 Famous Views of Edo, that first got me into the love, study and collecting of woodblock prints. It was like nothing I’d seen before. The modern clean lines, the perspective, the composition and subject matter and to think it was made in 1857. It just blew me away.
The man we know as Ando Hiroshige was born in Edo, with the name Ando Tokutaro in 1797. He came from a samurai background. His father worked as a fire warden at Edo Castle. Ando took over fire warden job when his father died in 1809 - he was 12 years old. Fortunately there weren’t many fires and he had a lot of free time.
At age 14 he began painting. He tried to join the Utagawa school and become a student of Toyokuni but he had too many students so Ando became a student of Toyohiro instead. When he was an apprentice he studied the styles of many different schools like the, Chinese School, Realistic School, and Western perspective. In 1812 he started to sign his work “Hiroshige”. In 1823 he passed the job of fire warden to his brother and became a full-time artist.
The Hiroshige Family Tree
- In the 1820’s Hiroshige married his first wife, who was also of samurai decent. They had a son named Nakajiro.
- In 1832 Hiroshige took his first journey from Edo to Kyoto along the Tokaido Road.
- In 1839 his first wife died and eight years later he married Yasu, a 16 year old farmer’s daughter. Yasu’s brother, a priest, was banished for having an affair. Hiroshige adopted his wife’s brother’s daughter Tatsu in 1851.
- Tatsu married Hiroshige’s best student Shigenobu who became Hiroshige II when Hiroshige died in 1858.
- Their marriage was rocky and they separated and Tatsu married Shigemasa, another of Hiroshige’s students, who became Hiroshige III when Shigenobu died.
Here you can see a timeline of the 3 Hiroshiges and where they overlap. Note that Hiroshige III was probably quite young when he apprenticed with Hiroshige I.
Examples of the Three Hiroshiges Work
Let’s take a look at some examples of their most famous work. Ando Hiroshige did some 8,000 designs in his life so it was very difficult to choose from among them. However, his most famous works are the landscape series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō and One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.
Starting with the 53 stations of the Tokaido, which was done in 1833. This series launched his fame as an artist. I like to think of these prints as snapshots of the important scenes along the Tokaido road. What makes these landscapes special is that Hiroshige captured the landscapes along with the common people of Japan, really depicting the connection between the common man and nature. He also did this with a warmth and empathy toward the people and respect toward the beauty and power of nature.
Take for example "Shono", where these travelers are caught in a rainstorm, you can see the forest of trees being bent by the rain and the travelers hurrying along the slope trying to protect themselves.
This print of Fujieda shows porters getting ready for a journey, but these aren’t stiff stereotyped characters, see how he’s added personality in their faces and really communicated the hustle of their livelihood.
In this scene of Mishima, once again he captures the common travelers and their unique personalities. But also look at the background and how he creates these layers of visibility and depth through the morning fog.
In this print of Hakone, he depicts this beautiful lush mountain and lake below, Fuji is off in the distance. And it’s easy to miss but see the thin line of travelers trekking up the mountain pass?
After the popularity of this first series, Hiroshige went on to do over 20 more major series of prints themed around the Tokaido, plus many other prints, paintings, collaborations, and book illustrations that were related to the Stages of the Tokaido.
The second series I want to show you is from Hiroshiges "100 Famous Views of Edo". This series was published in 1856 so it came at the very end of Hiroshiges career. Like the Tokaido this is a landscape series but it’s a vertical format instead of horizontal.
In this dramatic print "Fukagawa" we see an eagle ready to swoop down and catch its prey. The snow covered marshes and houses are in the distance. In this series many of the prints used this convention of having a large object in the foreground and a distant view in the background. This use of perspective is really powerful.
In "Kameido", this view of the cherry tree heavily influenced the French impressionists.
And this print of the famous temple at Asakusa.
Within this series, Hiroshige also designed more traditional landscape prints, like the "Sudden Shower Over Shin Ohashi", and "Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge". No one was better at creating these powerful, atmospheric, yet intimate landscapes than Hiroshige.
Hiroshige II (Shigenobu)
Let’s move onto Shigenobu or Hiroshige 2. He was Hiroshiges best student and the one that emulated his masters style and themes the most. In fact it’s sometimes hard to see the difference between them.
Here is one of the prints from the series Thirty-Six Views of the Eastern Capital done in 1863, Kinryûzan Temple in Asakusa. We can see he adopted the same perspective approach that his master did.
Here are another couple of prints from that series, "Fishing boats at Tsukuda Island" and "The Ferry at Yoroi". You can see how his composition, and themes are very similar to Hiroshige.
Another one of Hiroshige II's famous landscape series is "100 Views of Various Provinces" published in 1859. Here is one of my favorites Whaling at Gotô (note: I do not support whaling in any form).
This is Seven-Mile Beach in Sagami Province, and Kintai Bridge at Iwakuni. Both very beautiful and displaying a mastery of the medium.
Hiroshige III (Shigemasa)
In 1868 Hiroshige III published a series called "Famous Places in Tokyo". This was another vertical series that was close in style and theme to his predecessors.
Here is Tomigaoka Hachiman Shrine, we can see the familiar elements of the composition are there, the people, some use of perspective, and the landscape, but it has a rudimentary flatness and stiffness to it.
Here are "Shinobazu Pond" and "The Year-end Fair at Kinryûzan Temple" from that same series. These are somewhat less flat, but still lack depth and subtlety.
Another series that Hiroshige III was known for was "Pictures of Famous Products of Japan", these are more like book illustrations than artistic prints. Below we have "Catching Yellowtail", and "Exporting Tangerines".
One additional thing to note is that Hiroshige III does depict the gradual Westernization of Japan in many of his prints, here are a couple more. "The Garden of the Hotel Building" and "The Eyeglasses Bridge".
Comparing the Three Hiroshiges
After reviewing just a small selection of these 3 artists work, I think you can see that Ando Hiroshige was clearly the master. Hiroshige II was an artist in his own right, and very aligned with Ando Hiroshige’s artistic style and inspiration, while Hiroshige III was a competent illustrator and chronicler of his time, but in my opinion, he falls far short of Hiroshige 1 and 2’s creative artistry.
Here are a couple of comparisons I’d like to show you that may help to differentiate them. The first is how the 3 Hiroshiges depicted the same location. This is Hachiman shrine with Hiroshige 1 on the left Hiroshige 2 in the middle and Hiroshige 3 on the right.
The second comparison is the 3 Hiroshige’s approach to depicting people. Starting with Ando Hiroshige, his style is relatable. They are somewhat caricatures but they belong in the scene, we have empathy to what they are doing and feeling in the moment, they are individuals.
Hiroshige II on the other hand - his people are stiffer, less expressive, more distant, like actors plunked down in a scene.
When we get to H3, the scenes may be visually interesting but the people are cardboard cutouts placed to complete the narrative.
The artistic legacy begun by Ando Hiroshige back in 1833 with his first Tokaido series provided us with not only beautiful interpretations of Japan at that time, but also deep insight into the culture, people and their connection with nature.
I leave you with the poem Hiroshige composed just before his death:
I leave my brush in the East,
And set forth on my journey.
I shall see the famous places in the Western Land.