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A Wave from the East

A Wave from the East is all about the colourful ukiyo-e prints of Japanese genius Katsushika Hokusai. You’ve probably seen his most famous work, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, splashed in fresh blue and white across everything from phone cases to tattoos to t-shirts. It’s even got an emoji!

Hokusai’s iconic print shows a giant wave about to break over three fishing boats with Mount Fuji in the background. It looks totally Japanese but is actually a bit of a mash-up. Western art wasn’t allowed in 19th century Japan so Hokusai had to look at forbidden European pictures to learn western perspective, colours and shading. The Great Wave has a low horizon like a Dutch landscape, which creates drama and frames Fuji’s distant peak in the claws of the crashing wave.

Ukiyo-e were hugely popular in Japan. People even collected them like trading cards. The name means ‘floating world,’ a reference to the carefree entertainment districts of Edo (Tokyo). Cheeky and humorous, they usually featured famous actors, dancers and geisha. Prints were handmade by carving an image into hardwood blocks. These were then covered in ink and pressed onto paper. Popular prints were reproduced thousands of times. As the blocks wore down, colours and details changed, making each print unique.

Under the Wave off Kanagawa

Katsushika Hokusai 

1830-31

MFA, Boston

21.6764



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Woman Looking at Herself in a Mirror

Katsushika Hokusai

ca. 1805

MFA, Boston

11.7424
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Seated Woman with Shamisen

Katsushika Hokusai

ca. 1825

Brooklyn Museum

When Hokusai came along, he changed the rules by drawing ordinary people and landscapes instead. He used stylised shapes, thick outlines of Prussian blue ink and flat blocks of vivid colour, a bit like a graphic novel. Japanese people bought his prints of popular or sacred sites as souvenirs. When people in industrialised Europe saw them—with Japanese in traditional dress beside beautiful waterfalls, graceful trees and calm lily ponds—they thought Japan was an unspoiled paradise! He also made waves in the art world, influencing the likes of Van Gogh, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Cézanne and Degas.

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Under Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa

Katsushika Hokusai

1830-31

MFA, Boston

21.6753


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The Water-Lily Pond

Claude Monet

1899

National Gallery

NG4240


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La Japonaise

Claude Monet

1876

MFA, Boston

56.147


Today, almost 200 years after Hokusai’s wave broke across the world, you can still see the ripples in everything from fine art to pop culture. Maybe that’s why his images of ancient Japan manage to look classic and contemporary all at the same time.

The dream of Mount Fuji remains, ARTiSTORY reviews Hokusai’s prints from the collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, translating them to home decorations or commodities of daily life. We then invite you to enjoy the dynamics and passion beneath the tranquil surface of the prints, praising the holy mountain.

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Mishima Pass in Kai Province

Katsushika Hokusai

1830-31

MFA, Boston

11.17655

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The Montagne Sainte-Victoire with a Large Pine

MPaul Cézanne

around 1887

The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) 




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Keywords
Gatherings of the Greats, A Wave from the East, Japan, Ukiyo-e, Hokusai, Artist Stories, Design, ARTiSTORY
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