An influential and creative man known by many names as described in the title with an obsession for Mt. Fuji was none other than the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. Although he might not have been financially successful through his art, his work managed to grab global attention within a decade of his death. His art style had a unique focus on depicting the interactions between people and within nature. But it took a while for his art to get noticed and appreciated. “He once wrote (self-consciously parodying Confucius) Until the age of 70, nothing that I drew was worthy of notice.” (John-Paul Stonard, 2017) The unfolding of his life affected his painting style but his mastery was commendable in the Edo era of Japanese art. 

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Hokusai’s great wave   ©British Museum

Early Life

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Yoshida On The Tokaido Road Tokaido Yoshida ©katsushikahokusai.org

Born to a mirror-maker father, Hokusai is supposed to have inherited the art from his father. His early grooming around the world of wood worked books and an apprenticeship at a woodcarver workshop built a strong foundation for his art. With knowledge in woodworking, he was admitted to the studio of Katsukawa Shunsho, the head of a school that taught Ukiyo-e style, a woodblock printing and painting style. This style primarily focused on images of the courtesans and Kabuki actors who were popular in Japan’s cities at the time. (katsushikahokusai.org, 2021)

Artists’ work reflects the events and the feelings that they might be undergoing at a particular time. The same was for Hokusai. As his master died, he divulged into various other styles like the french and the dutch that he came across on various occasions. He did not stop there but even adopted the techniques of Shunsho’s rival school Kano. “This event was, in his own words, inspirational, ‘What motivated the development of my artistic style was the embarrassment I suffered at Shunkō’s (heir and disciple of Shunsho) hands.’” (katsushikahokusai.org, 2021) This event evolved Hokusai’s style and he began to depict the everyday lives of Japanese people.

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Katsushika Hokusai

People Crossing An Arched Bridge Ariwara No Narihira    ©katsushikahokusai.org

The name Katsushika meant a part of Edo where he was born and Hokusai meant north studio. This phase of his career was when he was not associated with any art school and practising solely. He even taught around fifty pupils passing on his exceptional talent to next-generation artists. His style in this period mainly included landscapes from the parts of his birth city. He also tried his luck with illustrated books which did not seem to fare as successfully as his other works. He had unique ways of approaching his painting style during this period. “Hokusai’s painting, created in the court of Shogun, consisted of painting a blue curve on paper, then chasing a chicken across it whose feet had been dipped in red paint. He described the painting to the Shogun as a landscape showing the Tatsuta River with red maple leaves floating in it, winning the competition.” (katsushikahokusai.org, 2021)

Taito and Litsu

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A masterpiece of Hokusai: view of Mt Fuji ©web-japan.org

At the age of 51, he changed his name to Taito. This period marked his involvement in producing art and sketch manuals called the ‘mangas’. The mangas was a reference guide with drawings of birds, animals, natural elements, and everyday objects for art students and budding artists. These manuals drew many disciples towards Hokusai.

Litsu was the most glamorous phase of his career. During this period, he painted the famous thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, various waterfalls, and bridges from different provinces. The Great Wave painting is dated back to this period. He was interested in detailing the natural elements like flowers, birds, and leaves during this phase of his career.

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In the later phases of his life, he produced the masterpiece ‘hundred views of Mount Fuji’ which received world recognition.

Impact on World’s Perspective of Viewing Art

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Van Gogh made many paintings influenced by Hokusai’s style ©web-japan.org

Hokusai remains one of the most influential Asian artists that have managed to grasp the attention of the westerners, french, and Europeans. His style that started as a part of the Ukiyo-e style evolved to depict more natural elements like landscapes, mountains, birds, rivers, etc. The western and especially the french attention to his work occurred only after his death when Japan opened its doors against isolation. The westerners and the Europeans adored his work and considered it contemporary because it deviated from the usual perspectives during that era. His observational skills evident through the paintings and the wide use of colours caught the attention of many prominent artists around the world. “The Ukiyo-e art created by Katsushika Hokusai and others is said to have significantly influenced Impressionists such as Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. These Impressionist painters created many works of art based on Ukiyo-e, incorporating its visual style and compositional techniques.” (web-japan.org, 2021)

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Roben Waterfall At Oyama In Sagami Province Soshu Oyama Roben No Taki ©katsushikahokusai.org

A key takeaway from the art of the renowned artist Hokusai is its genuine character. The constant urge of the artist to depict nature as precisely as he could make it utterly important in today’s age of filters. His willingness to learn even at the age of seventy years is remarkable and worth imbibing in ourselves. His quench for perfection makes his work timeless. Although there have been speculations of religious reasons behind his masterpiece, the fact that he took the mediocrity out of the traditional Japanese art style and made it as relatable and inspiring to common people as possible made him stand out.

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Reference List

Katsushikahokusai.org. 2021. Katsushika Hokusai – The Complete Works – katsushikahokusai.org. [online] Available at: <https://www.katsushikahokusai.org/> [Accessed 18 September 2021].

Stonard, J., 2021. Hokusai: The Great Wave that swept the world. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/may/19/hokusai-japanese-artist-late-blossoming-great-wave-mount-fuji> [Accessed 15 September 2021].

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Web Japan-org. Katsushika Hokusai: An Influential Figure in Art Around the World | Web Japan. [online] Web Japan. Available at: <https://web-japan.org/trends/11_fashion/fas201910_hokusai.html> [Accessed 18 September 2021].

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