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.
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.
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
But the painting is so well-known that it has come to eclipse the the artist's other achievements.
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.
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.
Hokusai's wave swept the world, and left all of modern art in its wake.