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Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

Like so many others, I have known The Great Wave my whole life, seeing it reproduced as a poster, screensaver, phone case and tote bag. And since the beginning of my artistic studies in school I had become familiar with the name Hokusai, but I knew nothing about the artist himself or his famed work.

The exhibition at The British Museum explores the many milestones in Hokusai's career along with his many names. I had not known for instance, that the master printer had been known by more than thirty names in his lifetime, often the change coinciding with a change in his artistic style. 

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is widely regarded as one of Japan's most famous and influential artists, working up until the age of 90. The exhibition features prints, paintings and illustrated books, many on loan from Japan, Europe and the USA. Walking around the exhibition, I felt just how special seeing the works all together was, a unique experience. 

Gamecock and Hen, 1826–34

Gamecock and Hen, 1826–34

Throughout the exhibition I found myself learning more and more about, not only the artists, but Japanese art. For instance, traditional perspective in Eastern art would place Mount Fuji as the largest point in the image, regardless of true perspective, while Hokusai introduced a Western perspective along with the chemical colour Prussian blue, newly imposed by Dutch merchants. 

Chōshi in Shimosha, from One Thousand Images of the Sea

Chōshi in Shimosha, from One Thousand Images of the Sea

Hokusai believed that with a greater age came a greater artistic ability, he strived to live to 100 years old, believing if he did that he would be the greatest artist that ever lived. His continuous creation of work seemed to keep him youthful, weather it be a major commission and publishing success or simply working at home with his daughter, he always created.

“If heaven will afford me five more years of life, then I’ll manage to become a true artist.”

Ejiri in Suruga Province, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

Ejiri in Suruga Province, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

His most famous work comes from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, Hokusai was 70 by the time he began work on the series. In all honestly, I think I had only ever seen a handful of the other prints in the series. So to see all thirty-six, I was able to appreciate the work as a whole. Each print, much smaller than I had imagined, was full of intricate detail, striking colour and beauty. 

The Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

The Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

The exhibition runs until 13th August 2017. Tickets £12, members/under 16s free.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/hokusai.aspx

Written by Jasmine Farram

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