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March 6, 2006 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Art To Know For Dinner Party Conversations

Katsushika Hokusai
The Breaking Wave Off Kanagawa (from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji)
c. 1826-1833

Last week we looked at Edouard Manet, who was causing a stir in nineteenth century Paris. This week we have an artist from Japan who was influential on Manet and his impressionist contemporaries. The Japanese artist Hokusai (one of the many names he assumed during his life) worked during the Edo period (1615-1868) and was both an extraordinarily prolific and cantankerous artist.

During the Hokusai’s lifetime ukiyo-e (floating world) woodblock prints were enormously popular amongst the emerging Japanese middle classes. They were cheaply produced and very affordable, primarily depicting the lives of those who purchased them: courtesans, geishas, restaurants, and theatres. Influenced by the Dutch landscape scenes that traders brought into Japan, Hokusai went on to fuse these Western traditions with Japanese pictorial conventions in his famous series Thirty-six Views of
Mount Fuji.

This, one of Hokusai’s most famous images, shows fishermen dwarfed by the crashing surf. The gigantic Mt. Fuji is shown, through perspective, as smaller than the wave dominating the foreground. Manet and his artist buddies were intrigued by this unusual manipulation of perspective, the simplicity of colour, and definitiveness of outline in the prints which came out of Japan. In this way works such as this by Hokusai were enormously influential on
the painting of the Parisian avant-garde, and in turn on the progress of modernism as a whole.


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