Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

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The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from 36 views of Mount Fuji), c.1829

The Waterfall

Katsushika Hokusai was an early 19th century Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) Japanese print maker known for his depictions of Mt. Fuji and stylized ocean waves. HE was born in Edo (now Tokyo) and it is said that he began to draw at a very early age, and even had his own workshop by the time he was 15. He studied under Kasukawa Shunsho, and during his early years, created portraits of actors. In fact, many of these portraits were actually advertisements for theaters and brothels.

Two Women

Shirabyoshi Court Performer

For the next fourteen years, Hokusai remained connected to the Katsukawa Sunsho school, and also studied with Yusen at the Kano school. Hokusai began to experiment with western styles and ideas from other art schools, which is thought to be the reason that he was expelled from Shunsho in 1792. This, however, would also lead Hokusai to become a major influence on European artists like James McNeill Whistler and even Claude Monet.

Mount Fuji

Boy on Mount Fuji

Fine Wind, Clear Morning on Mount Fuji

Hokusai led a somewhat tumultuous life, and had very poor luck in his personal affairs, and lived much of his life in poverty. He suffered great personal losses when two of his wives and his eldest son died. His personal memoirs state that he moved nearly 100 times during his life due to his restless nature. This was very strange considering that, traditionally, average Japanese families rarely ever moved. This makes the possibility for lost works of his to surface all over Japan or elsewhere, due to his frequent moves.

Flock of Chickens

Red Flowers

Much to the dismay of art historians and researchers, Hokusai also signed his works in a variety of different ways. He changed his name several times, some estimate more than thirty times, making it difficult for some to authenticate his works. He went by Shunro and Shori, and finally settle on Hokusai. One of these names was Gakyo-rojin, which means “old man mad with painting. This was a perfect definition for workaholic Hokusai, who worked on his craft day and night.

Thunder Storm at the Foot of the Mountain

During his prolific career, Hokusai created many drawings, prints, and sketches, an estimated amazing 30,000 or more works. His series, 36 Views of Mt. Fuji is among his most popular works, and actually consists of 46 designs. He also published a series of manga sketchbooks, and later on at the age of 75 a three volume book entitled One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.

One Hundred Tales, Ghost Emerging From Well

Manga Sketches

Hokusai continued to work right up until the day he died, and it is said that the last words he uttered on his deathbed were, If heaven give me ten more years, or an extension of even five years, I shall surely become a true artist.

Inume Pass in Kai Province

A Wild Sea at Choshi in Shimosa Province

Today, Hokusai’s prints are housed in prestigious collections all over the world, and perhaps in your own home. Still wondering about a Japanese print, painting or sketch in your family estate? Contact us…it could be by Katsushika Hokusai.