See the exhibition
Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything (30 September 2021 – 30 January 2022)
Discover the key moments in the life of Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), one of Japan’s best-loved and most inventive artists.
Follow his remarkable journey from lowly apprentice to rising star painting before the shogun. Then to the difficult years of the 1820s, when he lost his daughter and second wife. And finally to the 1840s, when he achieved a profound understanding of the world through his art.
A brush that never stopped
Predominantly known outside Japan for his woodblock print Under the Wave off Kanagawa (popularly called The Great Wave), Hokusai actually produced thousands of paintings and prints, as well as illustrations for nearly 270 books. He began drawing at the age of six, and for the next 80-plus years, his brush never stopped moving.
Even towards the end of his life, when sharing a home with his artist daughter Ōi (around 1800–1857), he stationed himself at his drawing table round the clock to keep pace with the demand for his work and the ideas he generated. He used many artist names throughout his career, often representing a life stage or personal belief. The primary names include: Shunrō, Hokusai, Iitsu, Manji and Gakyō Rōjin.
Hokusai is often categorised as an artist of the Floating World (ukiyo), a reference to the Edo period's (1615–1868) distinctive world of the theatre, pleasure quarters and popular culture. But he was much more. He was a sympathetic observer of contemporary society, a synthesiser of East Asian and European painting techniques, and a teacher who shared his joy as an artist in dozens of manuals on drawing and painting.
Travel restrictions during the Edo period, meant that Hokusai never left Japan. He lived most of his life in Edo (present-day Tokyo), but that did not prevent him from imagining larger worlds. Today, Hokusai is a world-famous artist who continues to motivate, challenge, and inspire.
Always in demand
A second (or third) wave
The achievements of this period include 'Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji' (1831–1833), two series conventionally called 'Large Flowers' and 'Small Flowers' (early 1830s), and many other innovative series. In Japan, Fuji is considered a sacred mountain associated with longevity. It may also have held personal significance for Hokusai, since he incorporated the mountain’s distinctive outline into one of his later seals and devoted a three-volume illustrated book to 100 views of Fuji. The art names 'Manji' ('Everything') and Gakyō Rōjin ('Old Man Crazy to Paint') both emerged around 1834.