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Hiroshige's Winter Scenes

Saturday, January 11, 2014Thursday, March 20, 2014
Gallery 107

Hiroshige stands as an incomparable artist among the many designers of ukiyo-e. His prints and paintings are a marvelous evocation of rain, snow, mist and moonlight. In one sense, they record a world of the past, but in another sense, they describe a world in which we still live, but we are blind to it until we see it in Hiroshige’s eyes.
—Suzuki Jûzô, Hiroshige, 1970

Here the scholar Suzuki Jûzô describes the powerful effect the work of Utagawa Hiroshige has had on generations of print lovers, both within Japan and in the world at large. Indeed, there are probably more prints by Hiroshige “in circulation” than there are by any other ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) artist. Because of their popularity, editions of Hiroshige’s prints ran into the thousands, and a great many have survived.

Utagawa Hiroshige was born in Edo (present-day Tokyo) in 1797 and died there in 1858. His earliest work was produced as a teenager, but it was not until the 1830s that he started designing the landscapes and bird and flower images for which he is most famous. This exhibition pulls from among some 1,600 prints by Hiroshige in the Art Institute’s collection and is devoted exclusively to snow scenes. These works show winter from a variety of perspectives, from the hardships endured by mid-19th century workers and travelers to the serenity of a snow-covered landscape. Even in these often bleak settings, the quiet beauty of nature is apparent, whether in the view of an eagle soaring through the sky or a duck occupying the sliver of a stream.

Utagawa Hiroshige. Kanbara, Evening Snow (Kanbara, yoru no yuki), from the series The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tôkaidô Road (Tôkaidô gojûsan tsugi no uchi), c. 1833–34. Clarence Buckingham Collection.