THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ABOUT HIROSHIGE'S
PICTURES AND HIS BIOGRAPHY.
(Mr. Minoru Uchida's Lecture.)
First I want to tell you how I have become so much interested in Hiroshige as I am, in spite of the fact that I was not originally a student of the Ukiyoe prints. It was late in 1913 that I saw for the first time Hiroshige's pictures. They were nothing but a few sheets representing the Yedo Meisho and the Tokaido, which were, as I now understand, in poor condition and very badly printed. Yet, I received then such impressions as I had never experienced before. My impressions were twofold : Firstly I felt something tender and inspiring respect about the colours of the prints. Secondly I felt something characteristically Japanese about the scenes represented. Since then I have seen many pictures by the great artist and I have become more and more interested in them. And I who had formely not much interest in works of art have become a zealous student of Hiroshige. Having stated the way in which I have been led to study Hiroshige's pictures, let me now tell you what I have felt about his art.
One of the causes which have aroused my interest in Hiroshige's pictures is his attitude towards Nature. His real teacher was Nature herself. In the days before I was introduced to his landscape prints, natural scenes such as beautiful colours of the sky or even bright landscapes indigenous to the land of Japan did not attract much of my attention. In other words I was quite indifferent to those objects. However, since I was deeply impressed by Hiroshige's productions I have gradually come to learn through them the awe-inspiring power of Nature and the inestimable value of her incomparable coloring until at last I have become a worshipper of Nature herself quite independent of Hiroshige's pictures. Thus I have been led to Nature by his pictures which are Nature herself.
Apart from those belonging to the Yamatoye of the olden times, what were called the Japanese pictures were generally speaking not in reality, pictures of native origin. On the contrary they were Chinese pictures. Indeed in the Tokugawa regime there arose various new movements in the artistic world of the nation with the result that there sprang up many new schools such as the Maruyama and Shijō. Yet none of them represented pure Japanese art. It is true that such a famous artist as Okyo, founder of the Shijō school, and others belonging to the same school were students of Nature, attaching much importance to realistic drawing. But still they were not free from the deep rooted traditional style of brush. They lacked penetrative insight into Nature. Even Sesshū and Motonobu were of the same type. Sesshū's artistic appreciation of the scenery of the Yangtze valley leaves nothing to be desired. But he was not so faithful in delineating Nature as he was in manipulating brushes. At least he entirely disregarded Japanese Nature. In consideration of all this, I think that Hiroshige was the only Japanese painter who proved himself an absolutely faithful interpreter of the native scenery. In depicting the greatness and gloriousness of Nature, Hiroshige had in mind Nature herself as prime object. His pictures are therefore possessed of religious influence and lead one to worship Nature. Through his pictures which, let me repeat, are Nature herself, I have come to be deeply impressed by the power of Nature.
Westerners can enjoy the Japanese sceneries in their lands only through Hiroshige's pictures. The reason why they like landscapes drawn by Hiroshige of a land different in climate and topograpy from their own is not so much because they are merely tempted by curiosity to observe customs and manners of a strange land, as because his productions which are the representation of Nature herself are quite intelligible to them. Pictures drawn by artists belonging to other schools must be unintelligible to the Occidentals in general who are not acquainted with the Oriental thought.
As to the colours of printed pictures and their artistic merits, they are alreadly patent to the world at large. But it appears that the public do not often take the correct viewpoint in judging and admiring prints. As for example, some bring to prints the attitude which they assume towards pictures by such artists as Sesshū and Motonobu. This is obviously mistaken. Because autograph paintings and printed pictures are two different things, each showing characteristics of its own. To compare them is therefore as absurd as to compare lacquer-ware and porcelain. Autograph drawings are pure works of art while printed pictures are objects of industrial art produced by means of wood blocks. One of the reasons why printed pictures have not hitherto generally appealed to the fancy of the Japanese is that since they are prints they are each large in number and that they are comparatively small in size. But the true value of objects of art can not necessarily be measured by their size and number.
Thinking that the creator of such pictures must have been of noble personality,
I set myself to the task with absorbing interest at the end of 1915 of
investigating the biography of Hiroshige. But there are no authentic records
of his life as a whole. There are various anecdotes told of him. Most
of them are, however, incredible.
The Series of Biographies of Ukiyoe
Artists Representing the Title of Utagawa by Mr. Kyoshin Iijima
contains accounts of Hiroshige I as given by Hiroshige III. But it also
contains many misreported facts and is after all a rough work. To state
what appears to be authentic according to the results of my various investigations,
Hiroshige was born in the ninth year of the era styled Kansei (1797),
and died at the age of 62. His father's name was Genyemon Andō and he
held the office of fire official in the service of the Shogunate Government.
Shortly after his mother's death in 1809 when he was 13 years of age,
Hiroshige succeeded to the house of Andō. Towards the end of the same
year his father passed away too. It was thus the lot of the boy to become
an orphan in the course of a single year. Whether there were other members
of the family is not known. In 1823 when he wars 27, he resigned the hereditary
post of fire official. His only son Nakajirō being, however, still too
young to succeed to his father's office, Tetsuzō Andō, one of Hiroshige's
relative, took up the office pro tempore. And in 1832 when Hiroshige was
36 years old, his son formally succeeded to the official position. When
a child, Hiroshige was called Tokutarō as is shown by a picture so signed
which was drawn when he was ten years old. He was later renamed Jūyemon.
In his declining years he called himself Tokubei. It is generally said
that his public career as an artist dates after the death of his teacher
Toyohiro in 1828 or 1829. But in truth Hiroshige began to live by his
art earlier than that.
The tomb stone of the house of Andō that had stood in the grave yard attatched to the Tōgakuji Temple was removed in 1916 from the necessity of the improvement of streets of the city. It bore the name not of Andō but of Tanaka. This had long been a puzzle to the students of the biography of Horoshige. But it has been made clear at last. The fact is that Hiroshige's father was the third son, Tokuaki by name, of Tokuyemon Tanaka, a teacher of archery in Yedo, who was formerly a chief page in waiting on the Lord of the Tsugaru clan. He was adopted by the house of Andō, taking the name of Genyemon Andō. The fact that the family tomb stones of the house of Andō from Genyemon downwards bore the name of Tanaka instead of Andō is to be traced to some household circumstances by which Hiroshige himself appeared also to have yearning love for his father's original home. Even among his printed pictures are a few with the seal styled Tanaka.
Hiroshige married twice. His first wife was the daughter of a samurai. She was spoken of as a gentle woman possessed of every feminine virtue and of a graceful mien characteristic of refined family. She died when her husband was 43. It was she who gave birth to Nakajirō refered to above. Nakajirō died at the young age of 20 or so in 1845. Hiroshige's second wife, Yasu by name, who was over 20 years his junior died in 1876. She appears to have been a woman of the world. Besides Nakajirō, Hiroshige had a daughter called Tatsu who appears to have been adopted into the family though some are of opinion that she was born of his second wife. Owing to the death of the only son of Hiroshige, a man was adopted into the family to marry the daughter and succeed him as Hiroshige II. Her second husband was known as Hiroshige III. With the passing away of Yaye, the second wife of Hiroshige III in October 1915, the House of Andō came to extinction.
The more I investigate Hiroshige's life, the more I respect his personality. Amidst the degradation of character prevalent among the Ukiyoye painters of the day, he alone lived a pure and spotless life. He was quite contented with a modest and simple mode of living, maintaining an attitude akin to that observable among master artists belonging to the Nansō school. It appears that like a true artist, he drew pictures not for the sake of pecuniary gain but solely for the sake of art. Little did he care about his scanty means of living. He was never tired of paying visits to various places far and near in all sorts of weather especially in rain or snow, day and night, not so much for the purpose of making sketches as for the enjoyment of Nature. Thus he represented in pictures without the least exaggeration or extenuation the very impressions he received from those scenes. Hiroshige may therefore well be called a poet. On the other hand he was above the common level of learning among the painters of his day. Almost all titles of his pictures were written with his own hands. He was a good composer of comic poems. Above all he was full of common sense. Some people observe that among his productions are not a few bad ones. In my opinion, however, all the first prints are each interesting in their own way. Not only that, they leave nothing to be desired in the variety of expression and in the representation of the spirit of the author. Small wonder that they are the objects of unbounded admiration by foreigners. It is patent to all that the western impressionists are in a large measure under the influence of Hiroshige.