Japan Blue in Ukiyo-e Hokusai & Hiroshige

"Japan Blue" in Ukiyo-e
~Hokusai & Hiroshige~

7/3/2021 ~ Along with VR Exhibition

"Japan Blue" in Ukiyo-e of Hokusai and Hiroshige ~The time Shibusawa Eiichi lived~

Eiichi Shibusawa is a historical figure now regaining prominence with the announcement that his portrait will be featured on Japan's new banknotes to be unveiled in 2024, and NHK's historical drama television series about the life of Eiichi Shibusawa entitled "Seiten wo Tsuke" (Reach Beyond the Blue Sky). Because Eiichi's family was a manufacturer of "aidama" (indigo leaf balls), the raw material for "aizome" (indigo dye), the drama series features beautiful images in hues of blue. In reality, blue was a prominent color in the lives of the people of the time, decorating everything from clothes to ceramics, and foreigners who visited Japan during the Meiji Period wrote about how the color blue penetrated the lives of the Japanese people.
Moreover, in the world of ukiyo-e, an imported blue pigment revolutionized the color palette of landscapes. The blue used in ukiyo-e crossed the ocean and was greatly admired as "Hiroshige blue."
Now, at the Adachi Showroom, we are presenting an exhibition where we chose "blue," the trend color of the times, as a keyword to showcase the appeals of the ukiyo-e of Hokusai and Hiroshige that were popular at the end of the Edo Period, which corresponds to the first half of the life of Eiichi Shibusawa, and to show the beauty of "Japan Blue" that colored the lives of the people.

<"Japan Blue" in Ukiyo-e: Hokusai & Hiroshige> can now be experienced as a virtual reality exhibition! >> Go to VR exhibition


"Aizome" in the Edo Period

"Aizome" is a traditional dyed textile of Japan used for various purposes in the Edo Period such as the everyday clothes of the common people and the curtain-like fabric that hangs in front of shops called "noren." The city of Edo was filled with the color blue, and such scenes were captured in many works of ukiyo-e.

Utagawa Hiroshige "Kanda-Konyacho"
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Indigo of the Edo Period

In vivid blue colors, Hiroshige's masterpiece paints a picture of Awa Province, a production center for indigo at the time.

Utagawa Hiroshige "Awa Province: Naruto Whirlpools "
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Eiichi Shibusawa and Hokusai/Hiroshige

The famous ukiyo-e series "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" and "Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido" were published several years before Eiichi's birth. He may have seen them somewhere when he was young. Hiroshige also used brilliant blues to draw scenes of the city around the time Eiichi first visited Edo.

Katsushika Hokusai "The Great Wave off Kanagawa"
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Popularity of Imported Indigo and Birth of Aizuri-e

With the advent of the imported synthetic pigment "Prussian blue," a genre of ukiyo-e called "Aizuri-e," which means pictures printed only in shades of blue, gained immense popularity. It is said that the first artist to draw an aizuri-e was Keisai Eisen, a popular ukiyo-e artist who was Hokusai's apprentice.

Keisai Eisen "The Courtesan Asazuma of Ogiya"
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Hokusai's Masterpiece "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji" Began as an Aizuri-e

The bright and transparent color that became known as "bero-ai" allowed artists to capture the sky and water, the essential elements of nature.
Hokusai's iconic art piece "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" also began as a series of aizuri-e.

Katsushika Hokusai "The Tamagawa in Musashi Province"
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Masterpiece of Aizuri-e

The peak of Mount Fuji appears from behind a light mist. The mountain is depicted using two kinds of blue - "hon-ai" (indigo) used to draw the outline, and "bero-ai" (Prussian blue) used to express a delicate blue that looks almost transparent. The shading used for the sky gives a mystic aura to the entire piece.

Katsushika Hokusai "The Lone Fisherman at Kajikazawa"
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Nuances of Blue and Water

"Tour of Waterfalls in Various Provinces" is an ambitious series by Hokusai in which he explored various ways to capture the ever-changing forms of water by painting waterfalls.
The beautiful "blue" was essential for Hokusai's lifelong pursuit of expressing water in his art.

Katsushika Hokusai "The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaido Road"
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Bird and Flower Paintings in Blue

Hokusai and Hiroshige used blue effectively in "kachoga" (bird-and-flower paintings) as well.
This is a tasteful piece showing a loquat tree and bird in white (the color of the washi paper itself) against a solid indigo background.

Utagawa Hiroshige "Loquat and Bird"
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Related ProductsThese products are recommended for displaying different works to match the season.

Adachi original frames for Oban (large-size) format

Adachi original frames
for Oban (large-size) format

The wooden frames are combined with durable UV-resistant acrylic sheets instead of glass. The frames can be used horizontally or vertically to match the Ukiyo-e displayed.

Frame stands

Frame stands

Frame stands are recommended for displaying works on a surface rather than hang it on walls. The stands can be disassembled for easy storage.