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Hokusai Great Wave

Discover highlights from the Museum's Japanese Woodblock Print Collection
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Iconic Hokusai Great Wave

Samantha Harris
3rd May 2017
By Samantha Harris

In parallel with the highly acclaimed Hokusai ‘Beyond the Great Wave’ exhibition at the British Museum, Maidstone Museum is also showcasing highlights from its own Japanese Woodblock Print Collection, including its original and rare version of the amazing Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai, one of the world’s most iconic images, in its exhibition ‘Japan: A Floating World in Print’ from 1st April – 10th June 2017.

The Great Wave, dating to the 1830s, depicts the vicious sea in a storm off Kanagawa, near Tokyo, Japan. The iconic image has inspired many artists and been recreated over the generations, becoming engrained in popular culture. It is an image which can be looked at time and time again, each time noticing new details. The viewer’s eye is drawn instantly to the wave, a strong focus with its writhing foam and steep curve, beyond this, Mount Fuji stands fast in the background, snow-capped and central to the scene. Only later is the focus moved to the foreground, seeing 2 long, wooden boats with their crews caught in this tumultuous and dangerous sea, under a foreboding and dark sky.

Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) born 1760 – died 1849, was a renowned Japanese printmaker and painter of the ukiyo-e school. He was a prolific artist, creating many works during his long 70 year career, and worked under more than 30 different names in a variety of styles. He is considered to be the leading Ukiyo-e artist of the later Edo period, a time in which Japan was under self-imposed isolation, cutting itself off from the rest of the world while developing unique internal styles and artistic movements. His later works were also influence by the increasing contact of Japan with the outside world preceding the Meiji restoration period from 1867. Hokusai took advantage of developments in new technologies during this time, with more vibrant coloured inks made available for artists, including the Prussian blue chemical pigment, used to great effect by Hokusai in the Great Wave.

At a time when travel outside of Japan was not allowed, the popularity of recognisable domestic views, such as those created by Hokusai, grew within Japanese Society, particularly among individuals who travelled to and from Edo (the administrative capital of the time). Hokusai’s success can also be assigned to his longevity, creating some of his most iconic works while in his 70s and 80s! Over 100 works by Hokusai can be found within the collection at Maidstone Museum, part of the wider 900+ woodblock prints and books within the spectacular Japanese Collection, including other well-known artists such as Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi, Utamoro, Gekko and Kunisada .

He not only created woodblock prints, including the series ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’, but also woodblock printed books. Along with the Great Wave, Hokusai’s ‘Red Fuji’ from the ‘Thirty Six View of Mount Fuji’ series, features in Maidstone Museum’s exhibition ‘Japan: A Floating World in Print’ 1st April – 10th June 2017.