Artist Introduction

Master artists who depicted the life and culture of Edo.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

1760 (Houreki 10) – 1849 (Kaei 2)
When Hokusai was 19, he became an apprentice of Katsukawa Shunsho, who was leading the area of portrait images of the kabuki actors. Hokusai made a debut in the following year. After Shunsho’s death, Hokusai left the Katsukawa School and took over the name of Tawaraya Sori. Tawaraya was one of the groups of the Rin School in Kyoto. Hokusai began his career as a town artist. He worked as Sori for three years, and then he started using the name of Hokusai when he was 38 years old. During his 40s, Hokusai became famous for illustration in books of his unique expressions. In his 50s, the number of his apprentices increased. He established his school, the Katsushika School. He started producing the works that pushed him up to the prestigious status permanently. He started working on “One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji,” when he was over 70 years old. He died at around 90, leaving the impressive words, “If I could live five or ten more years, I would have become a real artist.”

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

1797(Kansei 9) – 1858 (Ansei 5)
Ando Hiroshige was born as the first son of Ando Family, a fire-watchman in Yaesu, Edo. When he was 13, his parents died. He took over his father’s position; however, he loved drawing pictures. At the age of 15, he became an apprentice of Utagawa Toyohiro. In his early career as an artist, he mostly drew the portraits of beauties and actors. “Famous Places in the Eastern Capital,” published in 1831, made him one of the mainstream Ukiyo-e artists in the era. He also succeeded in adopting the screen structures utilizing and contrasting perspective drawing, using deep azure tone called Hiroshige blue and shading. His masterpiece, “The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido,” started publication in 1833, and became the best-known works of Ukiyo-e. In his later life, he started working on the series of paintings, “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” in which his emotional attachment toward Edo was crystallized. Because of the popularity, he published one hundred fifty views, more than he planned.

Toshusai Sharaku (Years of birth and death unknown)

In 1794 (Kansei 6), Sharaku came into sudden prominence, leaving more than 140 Ukiyo-e pictures for only ten-month of his activities as an Ukiyo-e artist and disappeared forever. For his debut work, he used O-ban (larger size) printing size and expensive biotitic background printing, which was unusual. Tsutaya Juzaburo, a publisher, promoted Sharaku vastly after Utamaro left him. Meanwhile, the printing size was getting smaller. One of the major reasons was that Sharaku’s way of drawing, which depicted the actors as they were regardless of their popularity, was not accepted by people of the era. However, each of his portrait works is full of energetic impression and gives positive impact. Because of that, he also received high acclaim from abroad..

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806)

1753 (Horeki 3) – 1806 (Bunka 3)
After Utamaro came under the tutelage of Toriyama Sekien, an artist of the Kano School, he was discovered by Tsutaya Juzaburo. Utamaro started drawing color woodblock prints and illustrated books under his patronage. In around 1791, Utamaro adopted Okubi-e (large head picture) to drawing beauties and used popular teahouse women as his models. For these, he was recognized as the leading artist of pictures of beautiful women. His portraits of beautiful women had an influence on the era; people who saw Utamaro’s portraits came to the women’s houses to take a look at them. Later, under Kansei Reform, a series of conservative governmental measures limited many expressions. However, Utamaro did not give up and played an active role in the golden age of Ukiyo-e. In 1804, Utamaro was accused of violating the law for drawing Toyotomi Hideyoshi whom it was against the law to portray. Utamaro died two years after the incident.