The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa-oki Nami Ura – Under the Wave off Kanagawa) or popularly known as the great wave is a woodblock print by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. Made in 1831 during the Edo period of Japanese history, the print is one of the best known Japanese works of art in history. Various museums around the world hold copies of this print. One of the prints is currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States. wood engraving Under the Well of the Great Wave off Kanagawa sold for $1.6 million at buyer’s premium, 10 times its low estimate of $150,000 in 2021. It has influenced a number of notable artists and musicians, such as Vincent van Gogh, Claude Debussy, Claude Monet, Hiroshige and more. But what is the story behind this impression? Why will it appear on the new 1,000 yen note in Japan from 2024?
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The artist and the concept.
Hokusai was born in 1760 in Edo (present-day Tokyo) and began painting at the age of six. When he turned 16, he became an engraver’s apprentice. He began creating illustrations for himself and became an apprentice to artist Katsukara Shunshō, who was one of the best ukiyo-e artists of his time. Ukiyo-e is the name for Japanese woodblock prints made during the Edo period. The word ‘Ukiyo-e’ means ‘floating world’ and refers to the impermanence of the world. The first prints were made in black and white, but Hokusai began adding colors to it, especially Prussian blue, a rare color used in Japan at the time. Hokusai was heavily influenced by Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, and French paintings. The artist discovered Western prints that came to his country through the Dutch trade. This is how he became interested in linear perspective and created a Japanese variant of it. He was intrigued by the oblique angles and the contrast of natural and man-made objects near and far. This can be seen in the great wave. There is a large wave in the foreground that dwarfs the small mountain in the distance. Small boats can be seen in the midst of the powerful waves. It is said that this print is a symbolic image of the change that was taking place in Japanese society at the time. With foreign influence becoming prominent through trade, it is considered to be the symbol of the soul of Japan due to the stillness and aptitude of Mount Fuji in printing.
Obsession with Mount Fuji
the great wave It is Hokusai’s best-known work and the first of his Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji Serie. Hokusai is said to have had an obsession with Mount Fuji. After all, it is the highest mountain in Japan and is considered sacred. There was another main reason why he made so many prints centered on this mountain. There was a boom in domestic travel at the time, and thus the image of Mount Fuji had a growing market. The prints were purchased by pilgrims who wanted to climb the mountain or tourists who simply wanted to visit the capital city and admire the view.
Ukiyo-e prints and their popularity
Impressionist artists like Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh They were big fans of Japanese prints. In his letters to his brother Theo, Van Gogh states how much he admires Hokusai’s works. He praised the quality of his drawing and the great use of line in the famous Big wave frame. This work of art left a terrifying emotional impact on his life and art. Hokusai’s prints depicted modern city life in a linear capacity using the technique where space is flat and atmospheric conditions are highlighted.
Beginning in 1640, Japan was largely closed to the world and only limited interaction was allowed with China and the Netherlands. This changed in the 1850s when US Naval Commodore Matthew C. Perry forced open trade. After this, there was a flood of Japanese visual culture in the West. At the 1867 International Exhibition in Paris, Hokusai’s work was on view in the Japanese pavilion. This was the first introduction of Japanese culture to mass audiences in the West, and an art collecting craze called ‘Japonisme’ ensued. Also, the Impressionist artists of Paris, such as Claude Monet, were great admirers of Japanese prints. The flattening of space, the interest in atmospheric conditions, and the impermanence of modern city life, all visible in Hokusai’s prints, reaffirmed his artistic interests and inspired many future works of art.
the great wave it is considered a timestamp of the era when Japan was transitioning from its old ways to a modern Japan. The artwork captures the impact of Western culture on Japan and how Mount Fuji played an important role in the lives of Japanese citizens. This work of art will soon be seen on the new 1000 yen bills in Japan, highlighting how important it is to Japanese culture and the Western art world. It also shows how timeless works of art can be when it comes to representing a culture.
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