Katsushika Hokusai The great wave off Kanagawa (c.1830)

Katsushika HOKUSAI
The great wave off Kanagawa (c. 1830)
from the Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji series 1826-33
colour woodblock
25.7 x 37.7 cm (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1909
426-2

With his unique social observations, innovative approach to design and mastery of the brush, Katsushika Hokusai created some of the most iconic, engaging images in the history of Japanese art. The Great wave off Kanagawa, from Hokusai’s Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji series, is considered his finest work, and early impressions of it that maintain sharp lines and vibrant colours are some of the rarest and most sought after of all ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

 

In addition to the work’s sheer graphic beauty there is a compelling tension between the monstrous wave, towering above with its impending crash of water, and the graceful lines of a diminutive Mt Fuji in the distance. We sense a dramatic struggle between man and nature in the fisherman huddling in their boats, riding down one huge swell before diving straight into the next. These swift boats, called Oshiokuribune, took a daily fresh delivery of fish and dried sardines to fish markets around Edo Bay.

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