A mainly blue and white of a huge wave, a small boat and Mount Fuji in the background.

Research project

Late Hokusai: Thought, Technique, Society

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

Key project information

Duration

April 2016 – March 2019

Contact details

Email: bmresearch@britishmuseum.org

Partner

SOAS University of London

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

Grant number

AHRC Research Grant AH/N00440X/1

What do an artist's pictures reveal about ways of living at a particular moment in history?

This research has repositioned Katsushika Hokusai (1760−1849) as an artist, collaborator, social commentator and thinker as seen through the techniques he applied to his later paintings, drawings, prints and illustrated books from 1819−1849.  

This interdisciplinary project involved scholars and institutions from around the world – see acknowledgements for a full list. It has created a unique pilot online resource of Hokusai's works, a major international exhibition and popular films in both the UK and Japan. A major exhibition catalogue in English and Japanese and a monograph on Hokusai drawings have been published, and a volume of 20 scholarly essays is forthcoming.

Find out about the latest project news

About the project

Based on Hokusai's major brush paintings, drawings, woodblock prints and illustrated books from his later years (1819−1849), this project explored how the artist combined the eclectic influence of Japanese, Chinese and European techniques with an encyclopaedic knowledge of nature, myth and history. Through cutting-edge scientific exploration of his technique, the project established criteria to help determine and authenticate his art. It also explored the influence of his wider collaborative network on the arts and culture of his period and urban surroundings. 

The project focused on four research areas: 

  • How Hokusai's art expressed his belief that art had the power to transcend beyond the limitations of the self 
  • The impact of Hokusai's work in redefining artistic techniques and definitions in Japan, China and Europe 
  • Establishing identification criteria to help authenticate Hokusai's painted and printed works 
  • The role of Hokusai's social networks – including collaborators and craftsmen, printers and publishers, pupils, patrons and the public – in the creation, reception and distribution of his later art.

Aims

This project was designed to carry out original, interdisciplinary research on Hokusai's later work covering the last thirty years of his life (1819−1849) to deliver a major public exhibition – Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave – which was held at the British Museum and in Osaka, Japan, in 2017. 

Using a pioneering OpenAccess digital tool called ResearchSpace, it also developed an exhibition online, showing the 103 'lost' drawings rediscovered as part of this project. This was established to catalyse engagement and collaboration between international scholars, students, collectors and art industry professionals as well as members of the public with an interest in Japanese art.

The overarching aim of this project was to redefine understanding of late Hokusai through the synthesis and mastery of his encyclopaedic range of styles, forms and formats. Together, these produced an extraordinary series of images, from worlds both witnessed and imagined, which hold the key to his universal and lasting appeal.

Conclusion

This project has opened up new avenues of study showing Hokusai as an artist caught up in the immediate concerns and geography of his era as well as reaching beyond his own environment. As a result, he created work that intersects real and imagined worlds which has implications for students of all levels as well as collectors and industry experts. For example, the rediscovery and interpretation of Hokusai's drawings for The Great Picture Book of Everything exhibition and book reveal a version of 19th-century Japan much more intrigued by the wider world than previously thought – a major new development in Late Hokusai studies.

Looking at Hokusai's later work through three lenses – Intellectual, Technical and Social – has helped to explain how the artist selected and gained access to his subjects. The project also offers critical reflection and contextualisation of the role the images play in Hokusai's life and the historical moment in which they were produced. 

Two exhibitions, digital resources, books, blogs and a film are transforming the public understanding and appreciation of Hokusai as an artist and the work he produced.
 

Meet the team

Headshot of Tim Clark.

Tim Clark

Principal Investigator
Department of Asia
British Museum

Headshot ofAngus Lockyer.

Angus Lockyer

Co-Investigator
SOAS
University of London 

Headshot of Dominic Oldman

Dominic Oldman

Co-Investigator and Head of ResearchSpace
Department of Egypt and Sudan
British Museum

 

Headshot of Alfred Haft

Alfred Haft

Project Curator
Department of Asia
British Museum

Capucine Korenberg.

Capucine Korenberg

Researcher
Department of Scientific Research
British Museum

Headshot of Stephanie Santschi

Stephanie Santschi

Researcher
Department of Asia
British Museum

Project team

Project supporter

Project supporter

Supported by

AHRC logo

Outputs

Late Hokusai: Society, Thought, Technique, Legacy

BOOK

A collection of essays by 20 international scholars presenting new insights on Hokusai and reflecting on the collaborative nature of the Late Hokusai project.

Edited by Tim Clark

Published in 2023

Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything

EXHIBITION

This landmark exhibition documents a major new discovery of over 100 drawings by Hokusai that were acquired by the British Museum in 2020. 

Exhibition opened in 2021

Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything


BOOK 

A landmark book to accompany the Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything exhibition. 

Tim Clark

Published in 2021

Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything on ResearchSpace

DIGITAL COLLECTION

103 previously unrecorded drawings by Hokusai are now available on ResearchSpace – a pioneering Open Access digital tool for the online study of cultural materials. 

Launched in 2021

Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave

EXHIBITION

A landmark exhibition casting fresh light on the sublime paintings and prints Hokusai created in the last thirty years of his life, up to his death at the age of ninety.

Opened in 2017

Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave

BOOK

A book to accompany the major British Museum exhibition Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave.

Edited by Tim Clark

Published in 2017

British Museum presents: Hokusai

FILM

The first UK film biography of Hokusai. 

Released in 2017

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