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Vintage Japanese Art: Hokusai

Posted by Karen Goode on

Since I'm having an Asian Art & Ephemera theme for my blog challenge right now, I thought I would give a little background about two of my favorite Japanese artists, featured on our Japanese Prints & Photos CD. The first is Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai was a painter and printmaker, best known for his series of woodblock prints called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. You've probably seen some of these beautiful images, the most famous of which is The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.

Hokusai lived and worked during the late 1700s and early part of the 1800s. His father was probably a mirror-maker for the local shogun. His mother was possibly a concubine.  Hokusai began painting when he was six. At age twelve he went to work in a bookshop and library, where he encountered books made from wood-cut blocks. At fourteen he apprenticed to a wood-carver and four years later joined a well-known studio of ukiyo-e, the style of prints and paintings that Hokusai would master.

At first Hokusai focused on traditional subjects of ukiyo-e, such as courtesans, geisha, and actors. But he soon began to create the landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from all levels of society. This change of subject was the breakthrough in his career, and in the history of ukiyo-e.

One unusual thing about Hokusai is that he used at least thirty names during his lifetime! Many Japanese artists of that time used multiple names, but Hokusai changed his name much more often than most, often related to changes in his artistic style or production.

Hokusai had a very long career that included portraits, book illustrations, traditional Japanese erotica, and manuals for art students, in addition to the landscapes and views of Fuji for which he is most remembered. He did his most important work after age 60, and continued to create fine work until his death at age 89. He is said to have proclaimed on his deathbed, "If only Heaven will give me just another ten years... Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter."

Japanese ukiyo-e, and Hokusai in particular, was a major influence on Art Nouveau and also inspired such artists as Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Degas, and Klimt. The appearance of one of Hokusai's sketch books in Paris in about 1856 helped start a craze for collecting Japanese art during the late 19th century. His work continues to be popular and inspiring! Discover over 50 works by Hokusai on our Japanese art CD.


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