Hiroshige: An Artist's Journey

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    Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). "Night Snow at Kambara from the series "Fifty-Three Stations of the Tôkaidô." Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), ca.1833-1834. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Gift of James A. Michener, 1971. (15927)

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    Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). "The Late at Hakone" from the series "Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido," Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), ca. 1833-1834. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Gift of James A. Michener, 1979 (17434).

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June 14, 2012 - August 19, 2012
Honolulu Museum of Art


Exhibition Overview

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) is often called "Japan's artist." Emerging at a critical juncture in the arts during the 19th century, as landscapes began to ascend to dominance in woodblock prints, Hiroshige's evocative depictions of the natural world have become iconic representations of pre-industrial Japan on the cusp of its transformation into a modern nation. Removed from the classical tastes of the social elite, with their artistic canons weighed down by the cultural authority of more than a thousand years of tradition, woodblock prints were an art of the common people. Through Hiroshige's work, ordinary Japanese discovered the wonders of their own country, from the urbanites of Edo's "low town" (shitamachi ) who craved novel depictions of famous scenery in rural areas, to pilgrims who brought his prints home as souvenirs of their once-in-a-lifetime trips, commemorating everything from spectacular views of mountains and ocean to the best noodle shops along the way.

At the same time, a famous Japanese poet commemorated the artist by saying "We are already all Hiroshige." Hiroshige's appeal is not limited to those seeking to reminisce nostalgically about a Japan lost to modernity, and has transcended the limits of the artist's own time and place to become universal. Just a few decades after his death, Impressionist artists avidly collected his prints, heralding Hiroshige as a new source for revitalizing European painting traditions; van Gogh even made famous copies of two of his works. It is no coincidence that today, the world's largest collection of Hiroshige's art, more than 3,000 prints, is to be found not in Japan, but rather in Hawai‘i, donated to the Honolulu Museum of Art by James A. Michener, himself a literary artist of universal appeal whose novels were adapted into smash-hit Broadway musicals and major motion pictures.

This exhibition presents prints from Hiroshige's first major success, the series Fifty Three Stations of the Tōkaidō, depicting the towns and sights along the road between Edo (modern Tokyo) and the ancient capital of Kyoto. This series attained such renown that it influenced many of Hiroshige's contemporaries to attempt similar projects (often directly copying him), and Hiroshige himself returned to the subject throughout his life. However, the prints from his first Tōkaidō series remain among the artist's most beloved works today, with such designs as Night Snow at Kambara (of which the museum has the finest surviving impression anywhere in the world) being heralded as the ultimate statement of the distinctively Japanese wabi aesthetic of subtle, quiet beauty. In addition, the exhibition will juxtapose rare, superb early impressions from the series with later states of the same works, revealing the dramatic ways in which the artist's original vision was changed over time.

This exhibition is supported by
First Insurance Company of Hawaii, the John Young Foundation, Hotels and Resorts of Halekulani, Donald and Laura Goo and Jean E. Rolles.