- Museum number
Object: Kanagawa-oki nami-ura 神奈川沖浪裏 (Under the Wave off Kanagawa)
Series: Fugaku sanjurokkei 冨嶽三十六景 (Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji)
Colour woodblock oban print. 'The Great Wave'; fishermen cowering in three skiffs, wave about to crash down on them, Mt Fuji seen low in hollow of wave. 1 of 3 impressions. Inscribed and signed.
- Production date
- 1831 (probably late 1831 (Keyes and Morse 2015))
Height: 25.90 centimetres
Width: 37.20 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Fishermen cower in three skiffs ('Oshiokuri-bune', fast skiffs to transport fresh fish to market in the city from around the Izu and Boso Peninsulars (UT 1975, no. 1)), almost praying in supplication to the 'Great Wave' about to crash down on them. Only Mt Fuji, low in the hollow of the wave, as if seen through a telescope, is unperturbed by the impending catastrophe. Tentacles of foam multiply and prey downwards, making the wave appear animate, and flecks of spray fall through the sky as if to deposit more snow on the distant peak. Everywhere the curves of the boats and of the swell echo the slopes of the mountain, but in violent flux, not still. About thirty years earlier, around 1800, Hokusai had drawn the same motifs of rearing wave and fishing boats in a pseudo-Western style (Nagata 1990, vol. 2, no. 55), but this was merely an experiment and looks quite lifeless in comparison. Only now, in his early seventies had he accumulated sufficient experience to give full rein to his innate sense of dynamic design, creating an image emblematic not just of the power of the sea but of all nature.
To animate the tentacles of the wave must have required a considerable feat of cutting: the line of each one is deliberately broken very slightly under the tip. Otherwise, the design does not use a large number of different colour blocks: three shades of blue (including the dark blue key-block) for the water; yellow for the sides of the boats (The pale red seen on the sides of two of the boats in the frequently reproduced impression in the Havemeyer Collection at the Metropolitan Museum (JP 1847) seems to have been added by hand); dark grey in the sky behind Fuji and on the boat just in front of Fuji; pale grey on the side of the foreground boat and rising up the sky above Fuji; irregular pink clouds across the top of the sky (faded to invisibility in this impression). The block for these pink clouds seems to have been slightly abraded along parts of the edge to give a subtle gradated effect ('ita-bokashi'). Sharp, early impressions of the design are found in the Phillips Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (JP 2972) (Matthi Forrer, 'Hokusai: Bridging East and West', Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum, 1998, no. 74) and the MOA Museum of Art, Atami (MOA Bijutsukan, eds, 'Katsushika Hokusai: Fugaku sanju-rokkei', Atami, MOA Bijutsukan, 1982, no. 2). Later impressions, easily spotted by the wide break in the line of the wave behind the boat on the far right (as here), tend to have a darker grey sky. The considerable wear to the block, particularly apparent in the breaks around the title cartouche, make it clear that many thousands of impressions must have been taken, probably over a number of years. Forrer 1991, no. 11 describes different printings and block deterioration in greater detail. In the British Museum collection is another impression very similar to this, but with a vertical fold in the centre (1906.12-20.0533).
'Ukiyo-e taikei, vol. 13: Fugaku sanju-rokkei', Tokyo, Shueisha, 1975 (text by Kobayashi Tadashi), no. 1.
'Meihin soroimono ukiyo-e, vol. 8: Hokusai I', Tokyo, Gyosei, 1991 (text by Nagata Seiji), no. 21.
Julia White, 'et al.', 'Hokusai and Hiroshige: Great Japanese Prints from the James A. Michener Collection, Honolulu Academy of Arts', Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 1998 (commentaries by Yoko Woodson), no. 6.
Smith, Lawrence. 'Twelve Views of Mount Fuji'. London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1981, [no. 2].
Smith, Lawrence, Timothy Clark and Victor Harris. 'Masterpieces of Japanese Art in the British Museum'. London, British Museum Press, 1990, no. 219.
Smith et al 1990
Hokusai has produced an image in which the awesome forces of nature are conveyed with equivalent graphic power. And through the hollow of the wave - as if seen through a telescope - sits Mount Fuji, the unperturbable, its graceful curves echoed by boats and waves alike.
In the late 1820s the chemical pigment Prussian Blue became available to Japanese publishers at a much reduced price from China. Here at last was a strong blue pigment for sky and water which would not fade, and one of the first large-scale publishing ventures that exploited its new potential was Hokusai's monumental 'Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji'. Encouraged by the commercial success of the project, the publisher Nishimuraya Eijudo extended the series by a further ten designs, printed this time with black, not blue, outlines.
Hillier, Jack, 'Hokusai: Paintings, Drawings and Woodcuts', London, 1955, reprinted 1978.
Gray, Basil, 'The Work of Hokusai-Woodcuts, Illustrated Books, Drawings and Paintings: A Catalogue of an Exhibition held on the Occasion of the Centenary of his Death', British Museum, London, 1948, no. 62.
Smith, Lawrence, 'Hokusai: Twelve Views of Mount Fuji', British Museum, London, 1981, no. 2.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2001, 11 May-29 Jul, BM Japanese Galleries, '100 Views of Mount Fuji'
2006 Oct 13-2007 Feb 11, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
2010 18 May- 15 Aug, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 'Gifts from the Ebb Tide'
2010 Aug-Oct, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
2010 Oct 19- 2011 Feb 14, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
2011 Oct – 2012 Feb, BM Japanese Galleries, ‘Japan from Prehistory to the Present’
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: B127