Alongside Hokusai, Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) was the most prominent 19th-century chronicler of the Japanese landscape. His work was also extremely popular with Western artists.
They drew inspiration from Hiroshige’s prints, including from his unique compositions. For example, he boldly disrupted the sense of depth in his works by positioning a reed stem, an entrance to a temple or an entire tree in the foreground.
Travelling the Tōkaidō
Throughout his career, Hiroshige produced series of prints depicting the 53 stations along the Tōkaidō
This was the main travel and transport route linking Kyoto and Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Despite producing thousands of designs focusing on this theme, the master still managed to vary them. For example, by complementing the landscapes with depictions of the changeability of the seasons and the weather.
Van Gogh’s favourite?
Van Gogh owned approximately 50 of Hiroshige’s landscapes. We know that he must have been one of Van Gogh’s favourite printmakers because the Dutch artist saw the Southern French landscape through Hiroshige’s eyes. Van Gogh also copied two of his prints in oils: Bridge in the Rain and Flowering Plum Orchard.
There are signs of Hiroshige’s prints being used in Van Gogh’s studio, such as paint stains and pinpricks, so it is clear that the prints directly inspired Van Gogh’s work.