Ukiyo-e Master Hokusai's
Great Wave of Woodblock Art.
Hokusai (1760-1849) is world-famous for
his designs of Mount Fuji, the most famous mountain of Japan.
'pole-star' ) represents Mount Fuji in an impressive triangular shape in his
prints of the holy mountain in the summer with massive floating clouds with
lightning to the side of the mountian. One glance on such a simple and
effective composition makes an unforgettable impression on the viewer.
Little is known about Hokusai's early
life. From what he has told himself he developed an urge to draw all kinds of
subjects related to nature from the age of 6. Also from an early age he came
into touch with the art of woodcutting. This experience was as a 'hidden
force' when he became a woodblock designer in his adult life. At the age of 19
he started as a pupil of Shunsho which marks the beginning of his career as a
illustrator. His first prints give the impression that Hokusai was not a
natural talent but that was compensated by his possessiveness to drawing and
his productivity which is unmatched in the history of Ukiyo-e. Initially he
designed mainly kabuki (actor) prints and book illustrations but slowly
he started experimenting within the other Ukiyo-e genres such as surimono (commissioned
print), kacho-ga (flower and bird print) and shunga (erotic
In 1812 Hokusai travelled to Kyoto and
Osaka. On this ocassion he produced hundreds of sketches with the intention of
getting them published in the form of a handbook on the art of drawing.
Between 1812 and 1820 the first ten volumes were published which are known to
the world as the 'Sketchbooks of Hokusai' (Hokusai Manga).
overwhelming quantity and striking diversity of sketches shows the viewer the
full reality of the Japanese daily life. The subjects are almost unlimited and
forms a colourful encyclopaedia of human life and labour, myths and legends
and of the material and natural environment.
It is like the production of these
sketchbooks were a finger exercise, a contemplative preamble for his masterpiece which places Hokusai in the pantheon of greatest artists being on
a par with RaphaŽl, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. This masterpiece series,
called the '36 Views of Mount Fuji' (Fugaku sanjurokkei), with
Mount Fuji as its main subject, portrayed under changing weather circumstances
from different locations and points of view, was published when Hokusai was
70. One of the prints is called the 'Beneath the Wave of Kanagawa' (The
Great Wave) and is the most famous print in the history of Japanese
Hokusai's Great Wave print
depicts one enormous wave coming from the left and reaching up into the sky
with its tentacle crests ready to smash the boats including their passengers.
It's the magnificent juxtaposition of the three elements the divine, the human
and the earthly presented here in a perfect harmony giving the image such an
impact and power.
It was Hokusai's '36 Views of Mount
Fuji' -series and especially The Great Wave that provided the
impressionists a decisive impulse in their quest inventing a new art as stated
by Edmond de Goncourt in his book on Hokusai in 1896: "This horizontal
series, with its rather crude colours, which nonetheless attempt to reproduce
nature's colours under all lightning conditions, is the album which inspires
the landscapes of the impressionists of the present moment".
Books on Hokusai
Gian Carlo Calza, ' The Hokusai Sketchbooks' by James A. Michener
Manga Master' by Jocelyn Bouquillard and Christophe Marquet
The Complete Ukiyo-e Shunga (Vol.1,7,13,23) by
R. Lane and Y. Hayashi.