Utagawa Hiroshige II (二代目 歌川廣重) was born Suzuki Chinpei (鈴木鎮平) in 1826, possibly the son of a fireman, as was his mentor Hiroshige I to whom he became apprenticed under the name Shigenobu (重信), proving to be the master's most successful student. His earliest known illustrations were for a book titled Wakan nijûshi kô (Twenty-four Paragons of Japan and China: 和漢二十四孝) in 1849. During the 1850s he occasionally signed his works Ichiryûsai mon (student of Ichiryûsai), thus using one of the gô (art pseudonyms: 號) previously adopted by Hiroshige I. He continued using Ichiryûsai (一幽齋) without the "student" appellation from about 1853 to 1858, when he inherited the illustrious "Hiroshige" art name after the death of Hiroshige I. It was also at that time that he married Hiroshige I's adopted daughter Otatsu.
Various scholars believe that Shigenobu assisted Hiroshige I with a number of his later series, including Fuji sanjûrokkei (Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji: 富士三十六景) for which the blocks were cut in 1858, but not used until the following year. Hiroshige II might also have had a hand in an earlier series, Gojûsan tsugi meisho zue (Famous sights of the fifty-three stations: 五十三次名所図会) from 1855, also known as the "Vertical or Upright Tôkaidô". It is generally agreed that Hiroshige II contributed at least three designs in 10/1858 to his master's last great series of landscape prints, Meisho Edo hyakkei (One hundred famous views of Edo: 名所江戸百景) of 1856-58, surprisingly using the signature "Hiroshige" during Hiroshige I's lifetime. Possibly, the publisher Uoya Eikichi wanted to maintain the master's identity for all 118 known designs. The prints in question were Ueno Yamashita, Ichigaya Hachiman, and Bikunibashi setchû (see image above). For these three works, the signature styles vary slightly from all the others, cloud-band or mist patterns called suyarigasumi (すやり霞 or yarigasumi 槍霞) are shaped and colored differently, and some (subjectively identified) weaknesses appear in the designs. Nevertheless, the Bikunibashi setchû design is an appealing work, even if the large empty space at the bottom seems uncharacteristic of the master, as does the roof of the stall selling roasted yams (yaki-imo) on the right.
There was a fourth design by Hiroshige II that was inserted into Meisho Edo hyakkei, titled Akasaka Kiribatake uchû yûkei (Night rain at Asasaka Kiritabake: 赤阪桐畑雨中夕けい) in 4/1859 as a replacement for Hiroshige I's print of Akasaka Kiribatake from 4/1856. The earlier work depicted trees and Buddhist temple houses near Tameike ("Storage pond"), a reservoir that was part of the outer moat of Edo Castle. The reasons for the late substitution are unknown; perhaps the original blocks were damaged or lost. Regardless, Hiroshige II provided an entirely new design, further establishing his bona fides as an independent artist no longer under the aegis of Hiroshige I.
During the years 1859-1863, Hiroshige II specialized in landscapes based on the later works of Hiroshige I, among them at least 81 known prints published from 1859-1864 for the series Tôto sanjûrokkei ("Thirty-six Views of the Eastern Capital: 東都三十六景) published by Sagamiya Tôkichi (Ai-Tô) in 1859-1862; Sumidagawa hakkei (Eight Views of the Sumida River: 隅田川八景) published by Hiranoya Shinzô (firm name Aikindô) in 1861; and Edo meishô zue (Views of famous places in Edo: 江戶名勝図會) published by Fujioka-ya Keijirô (firm name Shôrindô) in 1861-1864. One of Hiroshige II's better extended efforts was the series Shokoku meisho hyakkei (One hundred famous views in the various provinces: 諸國名所百景), published from 1859 to 1861 by Uo-ei (Uoya Eikichi). The designs in this series include prints very much in the manner of Hiroshige I as well as compositions starting to separate from the earlier models provided by Hiroshige II's mentor.
Many critics have written about a decline in the late works of Hiroshige II, especially those published by 1864 or later. In distinguishing between the styles of master and student, there is, overall, more rigidity in the compositions of Hiroshige II, along with an increasingly heavy, saturated palette in some of his scenes. Above left, the view of Kintai Bridge at Iwakuni in Suo Province (周防岩国錦帯橋) is very much in the mode of landscapes by Hiroshige I. One might tease out some criticisms regarding the repetition of forms with minimal variations, leading to a certain stiffness of execution, but this is a much admired design, and one of the finest prints in all of Hiroshige II's oeuvre. Shown here is an early impression with the three diagonal bands of green grass at the top right.
Another design from the same series shown above right, titled Sesshû Nunobiki no taki (Nunobiki waterfall in Setsu Province: 摂州布引の滝), is a different matter. There are insistent visual incongruities in the design. The rapid descent of the falls seems like a rigid ribbon of blue and white, and the bright pink and purple clouds appear not very well integrated within the composition, imposing their forms at the frontal plane of the image. The print seems both compelling and confusing. It is possible that Hiroshige II knew exactly what he was doing here and had his reasons (aesthetic or otherwise) for these mannerisms, but in art-historical terms, such characteristics in his compositional method have not been well received by later generations of critics.
In the early 1860s Hiroshige II began contributing to several series of gassaku (collaborative works: 合作), partnering particularly with Utagawa Kunisada I, who had earlier worked with Hiroshige I. Hiroshige II supplied drawings for background landscapes or for insets within larger compositions. Among these collective works was the series Edo jiman sanjûrokkyô (Pride of Edo: Thirty-six amusements: 江戸自慢三十六輿) published in 7/1864 by Hiranoya Shinzô and carved by hori Tashichi (彫多七). The results were not especially distinguished on the part of either artist. Even so, it must have been a popular series in its day, as there are many surviving examples with worn-down keyblock lines, betraying the enormous number of impressions taken from the blocks. One of the better sheets is shown at the immediate above right, titled Hashiba setchû (Hashiba in Setchû Province: 橋場雪中) from 1864. Hiroshige II provided another appealing snowscape in the manner of Hiroshige I, while Kunisada's ferryman and two female figures carrying umbrellas and huddled up against the cold were effectively observed.
Other projects during the first half of the 1860s included contributions to the series Edo no hana — meishô-e (Flowers of Edo — a gathering of beautiful places: 江戸の華名勝会), published by Katôya Iwazô (Seibei) over the course of more than two years beginning in 12/1862. At least 70 prints are known, but it appears the series remained unfinished upon Kunisada's death in 1/1865. Twenty-one artists were involved with Kunisada in the lead, whose actor portraits appeared on every design.
Hiroshige II was also very much involved with an extensive gassaku (collaborative works: 合作) series on the theme of the fourteenth Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi (徳川家茂) 1846-66) traveling from Edo to an audience with the Emperor Kômei (孝明天皇 1831-67) in Kyoto. This marked a historically significant event, as Iemochi was the first shogun to do so since 1634. The emperor had summoned Iemochi to discuss policy toward the foreigners entering Japan since its opening to the West.
The actual titles on the prints vary, most frequently being Tôkaidô (Eastern sea road: 東海道) or Tôkaidô meisho no uchi (Series of famous places along the Tôkaidô: 東海道名所の内). Two different tables of contents, however, list either Tôkaidô meisho fûkei (Famous landscape sights along the Tôkaidô: 東海道名所風景) or Tôkaidô gojûsan tsugi zue (Set of pictures of 53 post-stations along the Tôkaidô). The series is often referred to as the "Processional Tôkaidô," or written as Go-jôraku Tôkaidô (Proceeding to the capital along the Tôkaidô: 御上洛東海道). The set comprises at least 162 prints and was issued by a consortium of 24 publishers employing at least six master carvers, plus their assistants and printers, from the fourth to eighth months of 1863. Hiroshige II, one of 16 print designers, contributed 34 works to the project. The example on the left, titled Hiratsuka (平塚) and printed by Uoya Eikichi in 4/1863, depicts some of the 3,000 foot-soldiers, calvary, and gunmen in the shogunal retinue winding its way across a bridge and past the seventh post-station along the route. This number possibly exceeded the entire population of Hiratsuka, which is known to have been only about 2,100 twenty years earlier in 1843. Notably, as it was forbidden to report on current political events, nowhere in the series is the shogun actually portrayed, nor does his family crest appear. Apparently, the publishers assumed they would not be punished for issuing a commemorative series that avoided unfavorable commentary either through inscriptions or images. The series was quite popular and reprints of some designs by the same or different publishers were issued, many retaining the original date seals. Moreover, 100 of the prints were simplified and published as tekagami-jô (double-leaved albums: 手鑑帖) by Akiyoshi Zentarô in 1918.
Starting in the 1860s, while still living in Edo, Hiroshige II began designing polyptychs for the Yokohama print market. These included panoramic aerial views of the coast of Yokohama, at least as early as 3/1860, and scenes within the port town of Yokohama, including accurate portrayals of foreign mercantile establishments with views into the interiors or of the outside of buildings, at least as early as 10/1861. Another familiar theme in Yokohama prints was the fanciful imaginings of cities around the world. Print buyers were eager for detailed images of "exotic" foreign places. Japanese citizens were not permitted to travel abroad at the time except when accompanying special missions sponsored by the shogunate, so Japanese artists relied on images reproduced in imported periodicals and books. One such publication was the Illustrated London News, and it was that source (March 7, 1860 issue) which Hiroshige II used for a triptych titled Amerika nigiwai no zu (A view of American prosperity: 亜墨利加賑之圖), published in 9/1861 by Yamashiro-ya Jinbei. The scene that Hiroshige II saw in the London magazine was not a site in America, however, but actually Frederiksberg Castle near Copenhagen, Denmark. No matter, the print market responded well to these cityscapes, believing that they were the equivalent in the Western world of their native meisho (famous places: 名所).
In 1865, Hiroshige II moved from Edo to Yokohama after dissolving his marriage to Otatsu and began using the name Kisai Risshô (喜斎立祥; alternate pronunciation: Ryûshô) on his prints. In his final years, Hiroshige II turned mainly to decorating objects intended for export, such as kites, lanterns, and tea chests — the latter work earning him the nickname Chabako Hiroshige ("Tea-chest Hiroshige": 茶箱廣重).
Another pupil of the first Hiroshige, Shigemasa (born Gotô Torakichi, 後藤寅吉), later married Hiroshige I's adopted daughter Otatsu after her divorce from Hiroshige II, whereupon he began using the art name "Hiroshige." Today, he is considered to be Utagawa Hiroshige III (三代目 歌川廣重 1842/43 - 1894; also known as Andô Tokubei, 安藤徳兵). It appears that Shigemasa did not produce anything of lasting significance in the late ukiyo-e manner. © 2019 by John Fiorillo