HIROSHIGE (1797-1858) Utagawa Hiroshige is, along with Hokusai, arguably the best known ukiyo-e artist in the West. Hiroshige was born into a samurai family whose duty was to protect the royal residence, Edo Castle, from fire. In spite of his official duties, Hiroshige showed a precocious talent for art and, along with Hokusai, transformed ukiyo-e into a medium for depicting landscapes and scenes of everyday life in and around Edo (now Tokyo). Hiroshige’s prints proved immensely popular among the capital’s growing urban population as tourism and travel became prime activities of leisure for the Edo middle class. The Fifty Three Stations of the Tōkaidō series, one of Hokusai’s more popular works, paralleled Hiroshige’s own travels along the eastern sea route. One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, published from 1856-59, allowed the Japanese to travel vicariously to the nation’s capital, and depicted some of the iconic views and landmarks in and around the city.
HOKUSAI (1760?-1849) Over the seven decades of his artistic career, Katsushika Hokusai left an indelible mark on art of both the East and the West. Situated in a particularly fraught time in international politics, Hokusai lived and worked at the waning of the Edo period as the isolationist policies of the Tokugawa shogunate came under intense pressure from the West. Whilst Hokusai produced works in all the standard subjects of ukiyo-e prints, he is best known for pushing coloured woodblock printing into the genre of landscapes. Hokusai is particularly well known for his Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji and, especially, the single print from this series entitled ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’. The influence of Hokusai in the West can be seen in the works of Degas, Monet, Gauguin and Whistler, as well as in the development of Art Nouveau in Europe.