Ando Hiroshige and L.S. Lowry: images of majesty and realism

24 Sep

Ando Hiroshige and L.S. Lowry: images of majesty and realism

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) and L.S. Lowry (1887- 1976) come from different worlds and their styles and creativity are a million miles away. Hiroshige is internationally famous and Lowry sits rightly within his northern English roots which influenced him so much. However, Lowry is acclaimed in his own right and both artists were blessed with fine qualities and have left a rich legacy.

Lowry commented that “If people call me a Sunday painter I’m a Sunday painter who paints every day of the week!” This comment says much about his roots because pride, confidence and rebuttal, is part of a common language which seeks neither confirmation nor seeks weakness.

Lowry studied at the Manchester Academy of Fine Art and at Salford Royal Technical College. His knowledge of French Impressionism and the influence of Ford Madox Brown and Rossetti on his thinking played an important role.  However, Lowry was not interested in following or painting within constraints, therefore, he created a style which was unique and the subject matter of his famous art is a reminder of the real England.

Hiroshige was born in Japan and despite his paintings contrasting greatly with Lowry both artists did share common themes because neither was born into real privilege. Also, both artists painted striking images despite the subject theme being very different.

In an earlier article I comment that Ando Hiroshige is deemed to be one of the finest artists to bless the country of Japan and his art influenced famous artists like Van Gogh.  Hiroshige leaves a lasting impression on the imagination and Katsushika Hokusai clearly influenced Hiroshige and was an inspirational figure even if from afar.”

“Within the visions of serenity, sublime nature and stunning landscapes you have multi-dimensional realities which may clash in other cultures, irrespective if “Eastern” or “Western” thought patterns; however, open sexuality and conservatism within the same “inner-self” is based on thought patterns that are difficult to grasp from a non-Japanese point of view.”

Therefore, just like Hiroshige and other ukiyo-e artists who depicted stunning nature and tranquility alongside shunga and explicit sexual images, which renders confusion within the thought patterns of famous Western artists. Images by Lowry can lead to confusion for people outside of a working class environment and who don’t understand the real power and energy of industrial landscapes.

Also, just like Hiroshige had many dimensions to his art the same applies to Lowry but from afar both artists are known for a particular style.  However, this is misleading because Hiroshige and Lowry had many styles and while art lovers will know about this the general public may be surprised by the diversity of both artists.

Lowry and the power of the industrial theme really hit home because he states that “One day I missed a train from Pendlebury – (a place) I had ignored for seven years – and as I left the station I saw the Acme Spinning Company’s mill … The huge black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out… I watched this scene – which I’d looked at many times without seeing – with rapture…”

If we compare this statement by Lowry with the importance of time, space, nature, color schemes and symbolism for Hiroshige, then it is abundantly clear that their passion and influence was extremely different. In part, Lowry stands out because of what made him tick but Hiroshige followed a traditional route and his themes were not unique when compared with the style of Lowry who was truly independent.

This does not negate anything about Hiroshige because cultural factors, environment and other aspects of both cultures are bound to clash and in truth Lowry had a distinctive style which would render other artists less unique.  However, being unique by itself means little if the art form can’t reach the soul and express something deep or attract based on countless factors. 

Hiroshige is one of the finest artists to grace Japan but the overwhelming majority of British people would not put Lowry on the same pedestal which regards to being amongst the crème de la crème of British art.

The Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido Road, the Eight Views of Lake Biwa, and the Hundred Views of Edo are not only reminders of the genius of Hiroshige but many images are known throughout the world. On the other hand, Lowry used basic colors and he commented that “I am a simple man, and I use simple materials: ivory, black, vermilion (red), Prussian blue, yellow ochre, flake white and no medium (e.g. linseed oil). That’s all I’ve ever used in my paintings. I like oils… I like a medium you can work into over a period of time.”

Lowry also felt a deep connection with solitary figures and people who struggled to cope with life. He stated that “I feel more strongly about these people than I ever did about the industrial scene. They are real people, sad people. I’m attracted to sadness and there are some very sad things. I feel like them.”

Hiroshige and Lowry have both left deep impressions on countless numbers of people and it matters not whose legacy is the richest or who impacted the most.  After all, art is not constrained by thought patterns, style, meaning or anything. Therefore, Hiroshige and Lowry will mean many things to different people who love art.

However, both individuals blessed the art world and their power remains potent in the modern period and long may it continue to do so because Hiroshige and Lowry shared their gifts and their artistic talents.


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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Japan


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