Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Katsukawa Hokusai is one of the most famous names in Japanese art, and the epitome of the later Ukiyo-e ('floating world') school. His given name was Tokitarō but he used a constantly-changing sequence of art names. He entered the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō as a self-taught artist in 1778. After Shunshō's death, he probably went on to study with the academic painter Kanō Yūsen. His introduction to the Tawaraya family of the Rimpa school in around 1796 was a turning point in his career. He rapidly developed a reputation as a painter and as a designer of surimono, using the name Sōri. Soon after this he took the name Hokusai ('North studio').

From this time, Hokusai also often signed himself, Gakyōjin ('the man mad about painting') Hokusai. He lived a reclusive life with his daughters, including Oi, a fine painter in her own right. In 1811 Hokusai met Maki Bokusen (1775-1824) in Nagoya, who arranged for publication the first ten volumes of the Hokusai Manga ('Hokusai Sketches') between 1812 and 1819.

1820 marked the beginning of Hokusai's second sixty-year cycle, when he took the name Iitsu ('one year old again') and embarked on a highly productive period designing prints, surimono and book illustrations. He used the new Prussian blue pigment to revolutionary effect in the series Fugaku sanjūrokkei ('Thirty-six Views of Fuji' about 1829-32). This was quickly followed by his most famous book, Fugaku hyakkei ('100 Views of Fuji').

The aged artist lost everything in a fire at his lodgings in 1839 and devoted the last ten years of his life to painting increasingly transcendent subjects, such as tigers and mythic creatures.

Hokusai represented the archetypal Japanese artist for French critics and artists of the 'Japonisme' movement in the 1870s and 1880s. Edmond de Goncourt wrote an early biography, published in 1896.

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