The Wonderful Faces of Hiroshige
Ando Hiroshige is one of the foremost Japanese woodblock print artists. He is primarily known for his depictions of the landscapes and people of Japan. In many of his prints we can gain insight into the personality of Hiroshige through his humanistic depiction of his fellow countrymen and women. The personalities and character of these common people can easily be inferred from his simple caricatures delivered with efficiency of line and color.
One area that Hiroshige has a lot of fun, is in the faces and poses of porters that are carrying goods and people to their destination. You can easily imagine the happy one that enjoys his work and is whistling, singing or yammering away, and his counterpart that is not in a happy place, struggling beneath the burden of his load and life in general.
Before Hiroshige, Hokusai definitely blazed the way with his series of humorous sketches, below is a page from Hokusai's (1760—1849) ''Manga''. Scanned from Michener, James A. (1958) ''Hokusai Sketchbooks:
A lot of Hokusai’s exaggerated sketches are obviously funny for the sake of being funny, whereas Hiroshige’s characters, like his landscapes, have a more natural feel of people in the moment.
One of my favorite examples of Hiroshige's sense of humor is Goyu: Women Stopping Travellers (Goyu, tabibito tomeru onna), from the series Fifty-three Stations of the Tôkaidô Road. These women are not beautiful geisha types but hardworking staff at an inn, trying to drag unwilling travelers into their establishment. Although Hiroshige was very capable of more formal, traditional depictions of samurai, nobles, and beauties of the era, he often chose to depict people in this form interacting with each other and their environment.
Another Hiroshige series that has more obvious comedic images is "A Pictorial Guide to the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido." In this series (below) we see uncharacteristically large images of people filling at least 1/2 of the image. This series was definitely meant to focus on the human element and poke fun of people and stereotypes of the day.
Before I sign off, I'll leave you with three additional little gems. In the first image we again see porters, notice the pot belly, slumping bodies and one man appearing to wipe his nose (from the Gyosho Tokaido - Ishibe).
In the second image (Kakegawa: View of Akiba Mountain - from the Great Tokaido) we see a priest and his assistant coming to the top of a bridge, you can feel the heat of the day via the fan in the priests hand, and the assistant wiping away sweat.
In the third image (Yokkaichi: Mie River - also from the Great Tokaido) we see a man frantically chasing his wind-blown hat.
These are just a few of the many humorous and natural images that point to Hiroshige's artistic sense and view of life. This juxtaposition of glorious nature and common man is one of the main reasons Hiroshige is my favorite Ukiyo-e artist.
Feel free to contact me with other Hiroshige examples that are your favorites.