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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
On Show Until October 15, 2017