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Biography: Utagawa HIROSHIGE II (歌川広重 [二代])

Utagawa Hiroshige II 1858 Bikunibashi
Hiroshige II print from 10/1858
Bikunibashi setchû (びくにはし雪中)
Series: Meisho Edo hyakkei (名所江戸百景)
Woodblock print, ôban (355 x 243 mm)




Hiroshige II signature Utagawa Hiroshige II (二代目 歌川廣重 1826-1869) was born Suzuki Chinpei (鈴木鎮平) in 1826, possibly the son of a fireman, as was his mentor Utagawa 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: 一立齋門), thus using one of the  (art pseudonyms: 號) previously adopted by his teacher Hiroshige I. He continued using Ichiryûsai without the "student" appellation from about 1853 to 1858, when he inherited the illustrious "Hiroshige" art name after the death of his master. 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 have also 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 four 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 first Hiroshige's identity for all 118 known designs. The prints in question were Ueno YamashitaIchigaya Hachiman, and Bikunibashi setchû (see image at left), plus Akasaka Kiribatake uchû yûkei as a replacement for Hiroshige I's print of Akasaka Kiribatake from 4/1856. For the first 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 (Bikuni Bridge in snow: びくにはし雪中) design is an appealing work, even if the large empty space at the bottom would have been uncharacteristic of the master, as would the rather schematic roof of the stall selling roasted yams (yaki-imo) on the right.

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 dissociate from his mentor's earlier models. 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. 

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. 

Other gassaku 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.

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.

In 1865, Hiroshige II moved from Edo to Yokohama after dissolving his marriage to Otatsu and began using the name Kisai Risshô (喜齋立祥; 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).

Hiroshige II's names

Utagawa (歌川)

Personal Names:
Suzuki [Morita] Chinpei (鈴木 [森田] 鎮平)

Art names (geimei):
Shigenobu (重信 until 1858)
Hiroshige (廣重 from 1858)

Pseudonyms ():
Ichiryûsai (一⽴齋 c. 1853-58) a reuse of one of his master Hiroshige I's .
Ryûsai (⽴齋 c. 1859-63)
Ichiyûsai (一幽齋 c. 1860-61)
Risshô I (立祥 c. 1865 until no later than 1869)

Chabako Hiroshige ("Tea-chest Hiroshige": 茶箱廣重)

Pupils of Hiroshige II

The following student used the Utagawa (歌川) surname:

Kisai Risshô II (喜齋⽴祥 1849-1925; might also be read as Ryûshô)

For more about Utagawa Hiroshige II, see John Fiorillo's web page: