Hokusai's The Great Wave
Japan, Edo period, about AD 1831
Katsushika Hokusai, 'Under the Wave, off Kanagawa' (Kanagawa oki nami-ura), a colour woodblock print.
This is perhaps the single most famous of Hokusai's woodblock prints - perhaps of all Japanese prints. It belongs to the series 'Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji' (Fugaku sanjūrokkei).
The graceful snow-clad mountain stands out unperturbed against the deep blue of the horizon. Yet it is reduced to a tiny hillock compared with the towering strength of the wave which threatens to engulf the struggling boats. Such clever, playful manipulation of the composition is a feature of many of Hokusai's works.
This monumental series was the first to exploit the new chemical Berlin blue pigment, which had recently become cheaply available from China. It provided Hokusai with a strong blue for both sky and water and had the added advantage that it did not fade. Hokusai's series was so commercially successful that the publisher, Nishimuraya Eijudō, extended it with another ten prints, printed this time with black instead of blue outlines.
Several thousand impressions were taken of the design from the cherry-wood printing blocks, literally as many as the publisher could sell. This is a fine early impression, still with sharp outlines, which formerly belonged to the French collector René Druart (1888-1961)