Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave exhibition

This month the British Museum will open the first UK exhibition dedicated to the later work of Japanese artist and printmaker, Katsushika Hokusai

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave will focus on the last thirty years of his working life – from 1820 to 1849 – and bring several of his most important works to the UK for the first time.

A print of one of Hokusai’s most well known images, The Great Wave (c. 1831, detail above and shown in full below) will feature in the show, as will other examples from the famous Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji series (originally published c. 1831-33). According to the museum, the former artwork – rendered with an imported Prussian blue pigment and demonstrating an innovative use of perspective – reflects the way Hokusai experimented with artistic styles that were popular in Europe at the time.

Detail at top of post is from Under the wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave) from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji. Colour woodblock, 1831. Acquisition supported by the Art Fund (shown in full, below); Above: Clear day with a southern breeze (‘Red Fuji’) also from Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji. Colour woodblock. Both © The Trustees of the British Museum

The European influence is also visible in a rare collection of paintings recommissioned from Hokusai by employees of the Dutch East India Company in the mid-1820s and on loan from the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden.

Dragon rising above Mt Fuji. Hanging scroll, ink and slight colour on silk, 1849. Hokusaikan, Obuse

A selection of Hokusai’s images of landscapes, animals and flora and fauna will be shown alongside portraits, sketches, manga, painted panels, a brush drawing manual and various objects drawn from the British Museum’s own collection.

Hokusai’s long life (1760-1849) is also examined. While he lived to 90, working right up until his death, the late 1820s proved to be a turbulent time for the artist. According to the museum, during this time Hokusai experienced the death of his wife, illness and financial problems caused by his grandson. His daughter Eijo (who worked as an artist under the name Ōi) left an unsuccessful marriage to care for her father and work alongside him.

Poppies from Large Flowers. Colour woodblock, 1831-1832. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The British Museum has also said that for conservation reasons (many of the works are sensitive to light) it will rotating around half the artworks midway through the exhibition’s run. According to the museum, each rotation “will tell the same story, but there will be the opportunity to see a selection of different works in each half”. The exhibition will include around 110 works in each rotation.

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave runs from May 25 to August 13. Room 35 will be closed July 3-6 for a partial changeover of exhibits. See britishmuseum.org

Above: Attributed to Hokusai, with frame paintings completed by Takai Kōzan (1806–1883). Waves. Two ceiling panels for a festival cart, ink and colour on paulownia wood, 1845. Hokusaikan, Obuse, Nagano Prefectural Treasure

The waterfall where Yoshitsune washed his horse in Yoshino, Yamato province from Tour of Waterfalls in Various Provinces. Colour woodblock, 1833. Bequeathed by Charles Shannon RA. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Under the wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave) from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji. Colour woodblock, 1831. Acquisition supported by the Art Fund. © The Trustees of the British Museum

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