Monday, July 29, 2013

Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa (c. 1831)

You really know if an artwork has made it if they are popular amongst the youth despite the age of the work. This graphic artwork by Katsushika Hokusai and was made around the year 1831 as part of his Thirty-six Views of Fiji collection. Hokusai got into art at a young age, no doubt influenced by his father who was also a painter. He apprenticed with a wood block print maker in his teens and would later work for Katsukawa Shunsho, a prominent artist who also specialized in wood block prints. Like a fine wine or bourbon,  Hokusai seemed to only get better at his craft with age. He was sixty years old when this print was made. This fact had dawned on the artist, as his last words were believed to be "If only Heaven will give me just anouther ten years . . . then I could become a real painter". The print adorns the walls of many college dorms (I would totally get one). This artwork shows the beauty of nature. The full focus of the image is one the giant wave (hence the name), as it takes up approximately 3/4th of the image. Mount Fiji is in the background, as it was seen as sacred in japanese society.  The image is very calming to me, despite showing a group of turbulent waves. The peacefulness  for me is best shown in the people manning the boats. These people are not trying to fight they way; they're letting it hit them head on. This shows that no matter the power and gravity of the situation you are in, you will be able to manage the storm like these brave fishermen. As a college student this message resonates with me. Although this image is usually thought of as the epitome of Japanese art, there are quite a few western influences in the piece. Most Japanese artist would only be interested in making images of the rich and spiritual, not the lowly fisherman. Furthermore, the perspective is more inline with western works. This would prove to be a good move on Hokusai's part, as he was popular in the west during the late 19th century. He would even influence Vincent Van Gogh. Some of his later works had an obvious japanese flair, in a period of his work that would later be called Japonaiserie by Jules Claretie. All in all, I'd say that this is a great piece of work, worthy of the fond memories that it invokes  today.

Biography of Katsushika Hokusai

Find out why Mount Fiji is considered sacred

More artworks in the Thirty-six Views of Fiji collection

More information on Japonaiserie


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