Zoom Into 'The Great Wave'

By Google Arts & Culture

Spring Garden (1935) by Shoen UemuraShimada City Museum

A closer look at Hokusai's famous woodblock print

Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese printmaker who died in 1849 aged nearly 90, is one of those artists whose long, impressive career has come to be known for a single iconic work.

Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1830/1832) by Katsushika HokusaiTokyo Fuji Art Museum

Under the Wave Off Kanagawa (c. 1830-31) – often known as ‘The Great Wave’ – is so famous it has come to be regarded as Japan’s Mona Lisa.

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa (Edo period, 19th century) by Katsushika HokusaiTokyo National Museum

When viewed in its entirety, one of the revelations of Hokusai’s work is how fresh it manages to feel two centuries after it was created.

"If Heaven had only granted me five more years, I could have become a real painter." – Hokusai

Peonies and Canary (Shakuyaku, kanaari), from an untitled series known as Small Flowers (about 1834 (Tenpō 5)) by Katsushika Hokusai, published by Nishimuraya Yohachi (Eijudō)Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

But the painting is so well-known that it has come to eclipse the the artist's other achievements.

Spring Garden (1935) by Shoen UemuraShimada City Museum

Hokusai was, in turns, a romanticist, a classicist and an expressionist; a traditionalist and a crowd-pleasing populist. He revolutionized Japanese art by elevating lowly genres, such as landscape and “bird-and-flower pictures,” to high art.

冨嶽三十六景 凱風快晴|South Wind, Clear Sky (Gaifū kaisei), also known as Red Fuji, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei) (ca. 1830–32) by Katsushika HokusaiThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

When Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh first saw Hokusai´s prints, with their vivid colours and startling, off-kilter points of view, it sparked a revolution in their own art. And probably even Cézanne—the Father of Modern Art—whose monumental pictures of Mont Sainte-Victoire have a clear relationship with Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa (Edo period, 19th century) by Katsushika HokusaiTokyo National Museum

Hokusai's wave swept the world, and left all of modern art in its wake.

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