The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hokusai which he published in 1831 as the first print in his series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. The image depicts an enormous rogue wave threatening boats off the coast of the town of Kanagawa, just off the present-day city of Yokohama. The print shows seasick fishermen in three boats with a wave about to crash down on them. As in many of the prints in the series, it depicts Mount Fuji, and the mountain itself appears in the background.
Considered Hokusai’s most famous work, it is also one of the most recognisable works of Japanese art in the world. Impressions of the print can be seen in many museums around the world. The inscription is a signature in the upper left-hand corner. During his career, Hokusai used more than 30 different names in his signature, always beginning a new cycle of works by changing his name in the signature, and letting his students use the earlier name. Vincent van Gogh was a great admirer of Hokusai, and he praised the drawing and the use of line in the Great Wave.
Hokusai began painting at the age of six and at sixteen he was apprenticed as an engraver and spent three years learning the trade. At the same time, he began to produce his own illustrations. At eighteen he was accepted as an apprentice to Katsukawa Shunshō, one of the foremost ukiyo-e artists of the time. Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries when its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of beautiful women, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, scenes from history and landscapes. In 1814, Hokusai published the first of fifteen volumes of sketches entitled Manga.
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“A frog in a well does not know the great sea.”
– Japanese Proverb
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