We have likely all heard of Hokusai but in truth most people would only recognise The Great Wave off Kanagawa, also known as The Great Wave or just The Wave. It is a woodblock print and an iconic example of this man’s work; it’s prominent on the cover of Hokusai: The Master’s Legacy, a sumptuous book by Skira Editore, one of my favourite fine-art publishers.
Hokusai was an exponent of ukiyo-e. This was a style of Japanese art which was popular from the 17th to the 19th centuries. These woodblock prints allowed ordinary people to enjoy colour and views of life which might well have been beyond their normal experience. It was art, but also a kind of fashion, and a celebrity publicity vehicle, but at an affordable price.
Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) is the universally credited Master of ukiyo-e or the Floating World. He had a long career, being active between the late 1700s and the first half of the 1800s. He offered landscapes and seascapes, gentle nature, kabuki actors, aristocratic ladies and ladies of the night, men of war, working peasants, and characters from Japanese folk-lore.
Printed or painted ukiyo-e images
The term ukiyo came to symbolise this hedonistic lifestyle of musicians, poets, courtesans and actors. Printed or painted ukiyo-e images first appeared in the 17th century; they were popular with the emerging merchant class, who had by then become wealthy enough to buy these artworks.
Hokusai made a graphic impression on many Japanese artists, and some are included in this book. Keisai Eisen enjoys considerable space – he was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist who specialised in women and that included courtesans (bijin-ga). His best works, including his “large head pictures”, are illustrated here. He has a style which has definite Hokusai structure, but he has bolder lines and perhaps less refined strokes. The results of his techniques were prints with great visual presence and drama.
Through the comprehensive array of over 250 works from the Municipal Museum of Chiba and other Japanese collections, the book offers an in-depth representation of Hokusai that also touches upon his undisputed artistic influence. It illustrates in fine fashion the impact he had far beyond the shores of his home.
The Van Gogh exhibition in the eponymous museum in Amsterdam showed how much sway Japanese illustrations had over this European artist and, indeed, many others. When one sees the paintings and prints together one is immediately struck by similarities in both subject matter and expression.
Hokusai: The Master’s Legacy
Edited by: by Rossella Menegazzo
Publisher: Skira Editore