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Traveling around the Waterfalls in the Provinces:

The Mann Collection, Highland Park, Illinois

Color woodblock print Oban, 38.1 x 25.8 cm


Kirifuri Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

25.7 x 37.8 cm

Color woodblock print


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{ le f t}

HOKUSAI stands above his fellows. He was indeed a realist— free, unfettered, and a law unto himself; and it is in virtue of his great humanity, as well as of the splendour of his gift of artistry that, in our eyes, he ranks with the masters of the world’s art.





Women Walking beneath a Willow Tree HOKUSAI SOR GA, ca. 1787-98 Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper 99.7 x 28.0 cm Hosomi Museum

Women in Various Walks of Life Ca. 1793 Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper 106.8 x 52.7 cm Katsushika Hokusai Museum of Art

Women in Various Walks of Life Ca. 1793 Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper 107.0 x 52.5 cm Katsushika Hokusai Museum of Art

Women with Umbrella beside a Willow Tree GAKYOJIN HOKUSAI, ca. 1802-03 Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper 83.5 x 25.0 cm The Hokusai Museum

K ATS U S H I K A H O K U SA I was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period. In his time, he was Japan’s leading expert on Chinese painting. Born in Edo (now Tokyo), Hokusai is best-known as author of the woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji which includes the iconic and internationally recognized print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, created during the 1820s. Hokusai created the “Thirty-Six Views” both as a response to a domestic travel boom and as part of a personal obsession with Mount Fuji. It was this series, specifically The Great Wave print and Fuji in Clear Weather, that secured Hokusai’s fame both within Japan and overseas. As historian Richard Lane concludes: “Indeed, if there is one work that made Hokusai’s name, both in Japan and abroad, it must be this monumental print-series...” While Hokusai’s work prior to this series is certainly important, it was not until this series that he gained broad recognition and left a lasting impact on the art world. It was also The Great Wave print that initially received, and continues to receive, acclaim and popularity in the Western world. Hokusai was born on the 23rd day of 9th month of the 10th year of the Hōreki period (October or November 1760) to an artisan family, in the Katsushika district of Edo, Japan. His childhood name was Tokitarō. It is believed his father was the mirror-maker Nakajima Ise, who produced mirrors for the shogun. His father never made Hokusai an heir, so it’s possible three



Zhang Fei in Snowfall GAKYO ROJIN MANJI, 1843 Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk 132.6 cm x 43.9 cm Ujiie Ukiyo-e Collection, Kamakura Museum

Actor Sakata Hangoro III as Chinzei Hachiro Tametomo SHUNRO, 1791 Color woodblock print Hosoban, 31.4 x 13.5 cm Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection 11.1992

Actor Ichikawa Ebizo IV as Monk Mongaku SHUNRO, 1791 Color woodblock print Hosoban, 31.4 x 13.5 cm The British Museum 1904.1.10.02

that his mother was a concubine. Hokusai began painting around the age of six, possibly learning the art from his father, whose work on mirrors also included the painting of designs around the mirrors.

H O K U S A I was known by at least 30 names during his lifetime. Although the use of multiple names was a common practice of Japanese artists of the time, the numbers of names he used far exceeds that of any other major Japanese artist. Hokusai’s name changes are so frequent, and so often related to changes in his artistic production and style, that they are useful for breaking his life up into periods. At the age of 12, he was sent by his father to work in a bookshop and lending library, a popular type of institution in Japanese cities, where reading books made from wood-cut blocks was a popular entertainment of the middle and upper classes. At 14, he became an apprentice to a woodcarver, where he worked until the age of 18, whereupon he was accepted into the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō. Shunshō was an artist of ukiyo-e, a style of wood block prints and paintings that Hokusai would master, and head of the so-called Katsukawa school. Ukiyo-e, as practiced by artists like Shunshō, focused on images of the courtesans and Kabuki actors who were popular in Japan’s cities at the time. After a year, Hokusai’s name changed for the first time, when he was dubbed Shunrō by his master. It was under this name that he published his first prints, a series of pictures of Kabuki actors pub-

lished in 1779. During the decade he worked in Shunshō’s studio, Hokusai was married to his first wife, about whom very little is known except that she died in the early 1790s. He would marry again in 1797, although this second wife also died after a short time. He fathered two sons and three daughters with these two wives, and his youngest daughter Sakae, also known as Ōi, eventually became an artist like her father. Upon the death of Shunshō in 1793, Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. He was soon expelled from the Katsukawa school by Shunkō, the chief disciple of Shunshō, possibly due to studies at the rival Kanō school. This event was, in his own words, inspirational:

with the Tawaraya School and the adoption of the name “Tawaraya Sōri.” He produced many brush paintings, called surimono, and illustrations for kyōka ehon during this time. In 1798, Hokusai passed his name on to a pupil and set out as an independent artist, free from ties to a school for the first time, adopting the name Hokusai Tomisa. By 1800, Hokusai was further developing his use of ukiyo-e for purposes other than portraiture. He had also adopted the name he would most widely be known by, Katsushika Hokusai, the former name referring to the part of Edo where he was born and the latter meaning, ‘north studio’. That year, he published two collections of landscapes, Famous Sights of the Eastern Capital and Eight Views of Edo. He also began to attract students of his own, eventually teaching 50 pupils over the course of his life.

“What really motivated the development of my artistic style was the embarrassment I suffered at Shunkō’s hands.”

Hokusai also changed the subjects of his works, moving away from the images of courtesans and actors that were the traditional subjects of ukiyo-e. Instead, his work became focused on landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels. This change of subject was a breakthrough in ukiyo-e and in Hokusai’s career. Fireworks at Ryōgoku Bridge (1790), dates from this period of Hokusai’s life. The next period saw Hokusai’s association five


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Kingfisher with Pinks and Iris KATSHUSHIKA HOKUSAI, 1832 color woodblock print

Peonies and Canary KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI, 1834 Color woodblock print ational Museum at Tokyo

Grosbeak and Four-O’Clocks SAKI NO HOKUSAI IITSU, 1834 Color woodblock print Chuban, 29.3 x 19.0 cm Tokyo National Museum

Bullfinch and Weeping Cherry SAKI NO HOKUSAI IITSU, 1834 Color woodblock print Chuban, 25.1 x 18.2 cm Honolulu Academy of Arts, Gift of James A. Michener, 1991 (21,988)

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Pink and Red Peonies Blown to the Left in a Breeze and a Butterfly KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI, 1834 Color woodblock print 24 X 36.5 cm

Hibiscus and Sparrow KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI, 1834 Color woodblock print

KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI, 1834 Color woodblock print

Poppies and Yellow Butterfly


everything I do, the smallest dot, will be alive

marvellous, but when I am a hundred and ten

the mystery of things. at a hundred I shall have reached something

I’ll have made more progress. At ninety I’ll have penetrated

insects. Consequently when I am eighty

real structure of animals, plants, birds, fishes, and

At seventy-three I learned a little about the

H O K U S A I became increasingly famous over the next decade, both due to his artwork and his talent for self-promotion. During a Tokyo festival in 1804, he created a portrait of the Buddhist priest Daruma said to be 600 feet (180 m) long using a broom and buckets full of ink. Another story places him in the court of the Shogun Iyenari, invited there to compete with another artist who practiced more traditional brush stroke painting. Hokusai’s painting, created in front of the Shogun, consisted of painting a blue curve on paper, then chasing a chicken across it whose feet had been dipped in red paint. He described the painting to the Shogun as a landscape showing the Tatsuta River with red maple leaves floating in it, winning the competition. Hokusai collaborated with the popular novelist Takizawa Bakin on a series of illustrated books. The two did not get along due to artistic differences, and their collaboration ended during work seven

True Mirrors of Chinese and Japanese Poetry: Minister Toru SAKI NO HOKUSAI IITSU, ca. 1833

Color woodblock print Nagaban, 50.6 x 22.7 cm The Art Institute of Chicago, Clarence Buckingham Collection 1925.3332

on their fourth. The publisher, given the choice between keeping Hokusai or Bakin on the project, opted to keep Hokusai, emphasizing the importance of illustrations in printed works of the period.

Unusual Views of Celebrated Bridges in the Provinces. He also began producing a number of detailed individual images of flowers and birds, including the extraordinarily detailed Poppies and Flock of Chickens.

In 1811, at the age of 51, Hokusai changed his name to Taito and entered the period in which he created the Hokusai Manga and various etehon, or art manuals. These etehon, beginning in 1812 with Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing, served as a convenient way to make money and attract more students. The first book of Hokusai’s manga, sketches or caricatures that influenced the modern form of comics known by the same name, was published in 1814. Together, his 12 volumes of manga published before 1820 and three more published posthumously include thousands of drawings of animals, religious figures, and everyday people. They often have humorous overtones, and were very popular at the time.

The next period, beginning in 1834, saw Hokusai working under the name “Gakyō Rōjin Manji” (The Old Man Mad About Art). It was at this time that Hokusai produced One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, another significant landscape series. In the postscript to this work,Hokusai writes:

In 1820, Hokusai changed his name yet again, this time to “Iitsu,” a change which marked the start of a period in which he secured fame as an artist throughout Japan (though, given Japan’s isolation from the outside world during his lifetime, his fame overseas came after his death). It was during the 1820s that Hokusai reached the peak of his career. His most famous work, 36 Views of Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa, dated from this period. It proved so popular that Hokusai later added ten more prints to the series. Among the other popular series of prints he published during this time are, A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces and eight

From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie. In 1839, disaster struck as a fire destroyed Hokusai’s studio and much of his work. By this time, his career was beginning to wane as younger artists such as Andō Hiroshige became increasingly popular. But Hokusai

True Mirrors of Chinese and Japanese Poetry: Li Bo SAKI NO HOKUSAI IITSU, ca. 1833 Color woodblock print Nagaban, 51.9 x 23.1 cm Honolulu Academy of Arts, gift of James A. Michener, 1969 (21,892)

never stopped painting, and completed Ducks in a Stream at the age of 87. Constantly seeking to produce better work, he apparently exclaimed on his deathbed:

“If only Heaven will give me just another ten years... Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.” He died on May 10, 1849, and was buried at the Seikyō-ji in Tokyo (Taito Ward). A short four years after Hokusai’s death, an American fleet led by Matthew C. Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay and forced Japan to open its arms to the west. Hokusai’s career spanned the last age of Japanese history before its interaction with the west would change the course of the nation. Hokusai had a long career, but he produced most of his important work after age 60. His most popular work is the ukiyo-e series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which was created between 1826 and 1833. It actually consists of 46 prints (10 of them added after publication). In addition, he is responsible for the 1834 One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, a work which “is generally considered the masterpiece among his landscape picture books.” His ukiyo-e transformed the art form from a style of portraiture focused on the courtesans and actors popular during the Edo Period in Japan’s cities into a much broader style of art that focused on landscapes, plants, and animals. Both Hokusai’s choice of nom d’artiste and frequent depiction of Mt. Fuji stem from his religious beliefs. The name Hokusai

means “North Studio (room),” or “North Star Studio.” Hokusai was a member of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, who see the North Star as associated with the deity Myōken. Mount Fuji has traditionally been linked with eternal life. This belief can be traced to the The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, where a goddess deposits the elixir of life on the peak. As Henry Smith expounds: “Thus from an early time, Mt. Fuji was seen as the source of the secret of immortality, a tradition that was at the heart of Hokusai’s own obsession with the mountain.” The largest of Hokusai’s works is the 15-volume collection Hokusai Manga, (a book crammed with nearly 4,000 sketches that was published in 1814. These sketches are often incorrectly considered the precedent to modern manga, as Hokusai’s Manga is a collection of sketches (of animals, people, objects, etc.), different from the storybased comic-book style of modern manga. Hokusai inspired the Hugo Award winning short story by science fiction author Roger Zelazny, “24 views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai”, in which the protagonist tours the area surrounding Mt. Fuji, with each stop being a location painted by Hokusai. His influences also stretched to his contemporaries in nineteenth century Europe whose new style Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil in Germany, was influenced by him and by Japanese art in general. This was also part of the larger Impressionist movement, with similar themes to Hokusai appearing in Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Hermann Obrist’s nine



Color woodblock print

South Wind, Clear Morning (Red Fuji) KATSHUSHIKA HOKUSAI, 1849


going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word

never before. To all of you who are

hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life

At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a

whiplash motif, or Peitschenhieb, which became seen to exemplify the new movement, is visibly influenced by Hokusai’s work.

“From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.”

H O K U S A I started out as a art student of woodblocks and paintings. During the 600-year Shogun period, Japan had sealed itself off from the rest of the world. Contact with Western culture was forbidden. Nevertheless, Hokusai discovered and studied the European copper-plate engravings that were being smuggled into the country. Here he learned about shading, coloring, realism, and landscape perspective. He introduced all of these elements into woodeleven

Traveling around the Waterfalls in the Provinces: Amida Waterfall on the Kisokaido Road SAKI NO HOKUSAI IITSU, 1833 Color woodblock print Oban, 38.7 x 27.9 cm Courtesy David R. Weinberg Collection

In Holland in the late 1500s, artists such as Claes Jansz Visscher and Willem Buytewech developed landscape art, which focused on topographicallycorrect landscape representation. Landscape art reached its peak between 1630 and 1660 through Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Jan van Goyen. By the late 1700s, these Dutch paintings had become so common that the etchings were used as cheap illustrations. Dutch merchants smuggled their goods into Japan. These wares were often wrapped in paper that had been illustrated with these etchings. For Hokusai and other artists, the thrown-away wrappers were more interesting than the imports.

H O K U S A I learned from Dutch and French pastoral landscapes with their perspective, shading, and realistic shadows and turned them into Japanese

landscapes. More importantly, he introduced the serenity of nature and the unity of man and his surroundings into Japanese popular art. Instead of shoguns, samurai, and their geishas, which were the common topics of Japatwelve

blocks, moving the emphasis away from the aristocrats and to the rest of humanity. In The Great Wave, tiny humans are tossed around under giant waves, while enormous Mt. Fuji is a hill in the distance. Hokusai’s most famous picture and easily Japan’s most famous image is a seascape with Mt. Fuji. The waves form a frame through which we see Mt. Fuji in the distance. Hokusai loved to depict water in motion:

The foam of the wave is breaking into claws, which, grasp for the fishermen. The large wave forms a massive yin to the yang of empty space under it. The impending crash of the wave brings tension into the painting. In the foreground, a small peaked wave forms a miniature Mt. Fuji, which is repeated hundreds of miles away in the enormous Mt. Fuji, which shrinks through perspective; the wavelet is larger than the mountain. Instead of shoguns and nobility, we see tiny fishermen huddled into their sleek crafts as they slide down a wave and dive straight into the next wave to get to the other side. The yin violence of Nature is counterbalanced by the yang, relaxed confidence of expert fishermen. Although it’s a sea storm, the sun is shining.

To Westerners, this woodblock seems to be the quintessential Japanese image, yet it’s quite un-Japanese. Traditional Japanese would have never painted lower-class fishermen (at the time, fishermen were one of the low-

est and most despised of Japanese social classes); Japanese ignored nature; they would not have used perspective; they wouldn’t have paid much attention to the subtle shading of the sky. We like the woodblock print because it’s familiar to us. The elements of this Japanese pastoral painting originated in Western art: it includes landscape, long-distance perspective, nature, and ordinary humans, all of which were foreign to Japanese art at the time. The Giant Wave is actually a Western painting, seen through Japanese eyes.

Hokusai didn’t merely use Western art. He transformed Dutch pastoral paintings by adding the Japanese style of flattening and the use of color surfaces as an element. By the 1880’s, Japanese prints were the rage in Western culture. Hokusai’s prints were studied by young European artists, such as Van Gogh and Whistler, in a style called Japonaiserie. Thus Western painting returned to the West. K AT S U S H I K A H O K U S A I

Although Chinese and Japanese paintings had been using long distance landscape views for 1,500 years, this style had never entered the woodblock print. Ukiyo-e woodblocks were produced for bourgeoisie city gentry who wanted images of street life, sumo wrestlers, and geishas. The countryside and peasants were ignored.

nese illustrative art at the time, Hokusai placed the common man into his wood-

five more years, I could have become a real painter

tionized and invigorated Japanese art.

If Heaven had only granted me

block and ukiyo-e art and thus revolu-

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H O K U S A I : A M a n W i t h M a n y Vi e w s is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Norton Museum of Art. Generous support for the exhibition is provided by the Koret Foundation. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. The San Francisco presentation is made possible by generous support from Doris and Donald Fisher, the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund, and Nancy and Steven H. Oliver. Additional support is provided by the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation.

January 10, 2010 – April 10, 2010

( 4 15 ) 3 5 7 - 4 0 0 0

San Francisco CA 94 10 3

151 Third Street (between Mission + Howard)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art



printmaker catalog