Hokusai: On Show NGV International, Expression and Influence

Mt Fuji Hokusai
Hokusai 4

Peonies and butterfly (Botan ni ch?) 1833–34 from an untitled series known as Large flowers colour woodblock 26.2 x 38.7 cm (image and sheet) The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto

A major show now at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV International) displays over 170 works of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), one of Japan’s most influential and prolific artists.

It is the first major presentation of Hokusai works in Australia, although the NGV has been building its own collection of Hokusai prints since 1909.

Mt Fuji Hokusai

South wind, clear sky (Red Fuji) (Gaif? Kaisei) 1830–34 from the Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji (Fugaku-sanj?-rokkei) series colour woodblock 25.1 x 37.5 cm (image and sheet), courtesy National Gallery of Victoria

Hokusai: the exhibition, a collaboration between the NGV International) and the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, spans the artist’s entire career. It mainly comprises woodblock prints but includes rare paintings on silk and hand-printed illustrated books known as manga.

Katsushika Hokusai, Peonies and canary (Shakuyaku kanaari) c. 1834, printed late 19th century from an untitled series known as Small flowers colour woodblock 25.7 x 18.5 cm (image and sheet) The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto

Katsushika Hokusai, Peonies and canary (Shakuyaku kanaari) c. 1834, printed late 19th century from an untitled series known as Small flowers colour woodblock 25.7 x 18.5 cm (image and sheet) The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto

Wayne Crothers, Curator of Asian Art at the NGV and a Hokusai expert, notes the exhibition features full sets of all of the artist’s major projects.

“It starts with about eighteen works representing his early development,” he says. “The main core of the exhibition covers from 1831 to 1836, his most productive period. Interestingly, that was when he was between 70 and 75.”

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (c. 1830) from the Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji series 1826-33 colour woodblock 25.7 x 37.7 cm (image and sheet) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (c. 1830) from the Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji series 1826-33 colour woodblock 25.7 x 37.7 cm (image and sheet) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Hokusai’s most well-known (in the West) image is The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, done in 1830 and one of a series called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. But Crothers points out that in Japan another image from the same series, known as Red Fuji, is actually the more popular.

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Katsushika Hokusai, In the T?t?mi mountains (T?t?mi Sanch?) 1830–34 from the Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji (Fugaku-sanj?-rokkei) series colour woodblock 26.2 x 38.7 cm (image and sheet) The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto

While a number of his series dealt with the natural world, including waterfalls, rivers, islands and flowers, he often portrayed ordinary people at work, such as labourers or fishermen.

One of his images of a fisherman is thought to be a self-portrait. Other works, such as his prints illustrating ghost tales or his comic books re-telling popular stories, displays his sense of humour.

Fisherman on the seashore rock (Ry?shi zu (jigasan))' 1830s colour woodblock 20.9 x 17.3 cm (image and sheet) courtesy National Gallery of Victoria

Fisherman on the seashore rock (Ry?shi zu (jigasan))’ 1830s colour woodblock
20.9 x 17.3 cm (image and sheet) courtesy National Gallery of Victoria

Even though many of these images are 170 years old or more, they remain crisp and vibrant. Hokusai was quick to adopt new colours, especially Prussian Blue, that were becoming available through trade with the West in his lifetime.

Katsushika Hokusai Snow on the Sumida River (Sumida) c. 1833 from the Snow, Moon and Flowers (setsu-getsu-ka) series colour woodblock 25.6 x 37.2 cm (image and sheet) The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto

Katsushika Hokusai Snow on the Sumida River (Sumida) c. 1833 from the Snow, Moon and Flowers (setsu-getsu-ka) series
colour woodblock 25.6 x 37.2 cm (image and sheet) The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto

Hokusai was also interested in Western theories on perspective, and his work introduced a sense of depth to the Japanese pictorial aesthetic, traditionally two-dimensional.

Katsushika Hokusai The craftsman’s workshop near Mt Fuji (Fujisan sobani aru shokunin no shigotoba) 1798 from The mist of Sandara (Sandara kasumi) album colour woodblock 21.8 x 31.0 cm (image and sheet) The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto

Katsushika Hokusai, The craftsman’s workshop near Mt Fuji (Fujisan sobani aru shokunin no shigotoba) 1798 from The mist of Sandara (Sandara kasumi) album colour woodblock 21.8 x 31.0 cm (image and sheet) The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto

Hokusai remains influential in Japanese and Asian art. There is, in fact, a 2015 anime movie called Miss Hokusai, about the artist, his life and his times, told through the eyes of his daughter.

Derek Parker, Special Features, Spotlight Stories, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017

Hokusai
NGV International

On Show Until October 15, 2017

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