Hokusai (葛飾 北斎, listen (help·info), c.
October 31, 1760 – May 10, 1849) was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e
painter and printmaker of the
Edo period. He was influenced by
Sesshū Tōyō and other styles of Chinese painting. Born in Edo
Hokusai is best known as author of the woodblock print
Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景, Fugaku
Sanjūroku-kei, c. 1831) which includes the internationally iconic
print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
Hokusai created the Thirty-Six Views both as a response to a domestic
travel boom and as part of a personal obsession with Mount Fuji. It
was this series, specifically The Great Wave print and Fine Wind,
Clear Morning, that secured Hokusai’s fame both in Japan and
overseas. As historian Richard Lane concludes, "Indeed, if there is
one work that made Hokusai's name, both in Japan and abroad, it must
be this monumental print-series". While Hokusai's work prior to
this series is certainly important, it was not until this series that
he gained broad recognition.
1 Early life and artistic training
2 Height of career
3 Later life
5 Works and influences
5.1 Selected works
5.2 Influences on art and culture
8 Further reading
8.1 General biography
8.2 Specific works of art
8.3 Art monographs
9 External links
Early life and artistic training
The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai's most famous print, the first in
the series 36 Views of Mount Fuji
Egrets from Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing
Image of bathers from the
Contemporary print of
Hokusai painting the Great Daruma in 1817
Hokusai's date of birth is unclear, but is often stated as the 23rd
day of the 9th month of the 10th year of the
Hōreki era (in the old
calendar, or October 31, 1760) to an artisan family, in the Katsushika
district of Edo, Japan. His childhood name was Tokitarō. It is
believed his father was the mirror-maker Nakajima Ise, who produced
mirrors for the shogun. His father never made
Hokusai an heir, so
it is possible that his mother was a concubine.
painting around the age of six, perhaps learning from his father,
whose work on mirrors included a painting of designs around
Hokusai was known by at least thirty names during his lifetime. While
the use of multiple names was a common practice of Japanese artists of
the time, his number of pseudonyms exceeds that of any other major
Japanese artist. Hokusai's name changes are so frequent, and so often
related to changes in his artistic production and style, that they are
used for breaking his life up into periods.
At the age of 12, his father sent him to work in a bookshop and
lending library, a popular type of institution in Japanese cities,
where reading books made from wood-cut blocks was a popular
entertainment of the middle and upper classes. At 14, he worked as
an apprentice to a wood-carver, until the age of 18, when he entered
the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō. Shunshō was an artist of ukiyo-e, a
style of woodblock prints and paintings that
Hokusai would master, and
head of the so-called Katsukawa school. Ukiyo-e, as practised by
artists like Shunshō, focused on images of the courtesans and Kabuki
actors who were popular in Japan's cities at the time.
After a year, Hokusai's name changed for the first time, when he was
dubbed Shunrō by his master. It was under this name that he published
his first prints, a series of pictures of
Kabuki actors published in
1779. During the decade he worked in Shunshō's studio,
married to his first wife, about whom very little is known except that
she died in the early 1790s. He married again in 1797, although this
second wife also died after a short time. He fathered two sons and
three daughters with these two wives, and his youngest daughter Ei,
also known as Ōi, eventually became an artist.
Upon the death of Shunshō in 1793,
Hokusai began exploring other
styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through
French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. He was
soon expelled from the Katsukawa school by Shunkō, the chief disciple
of Shunshō, possibly due to studies at the rival Kanō school. This
event was, in his own words, inspirational: "What really motivated the
development of my artistic style was the embarrassment I suffered at
Hokusai also changed the subjects of his works, moving away from the
images of courtesans and actors that were the traditional subjects of
ukiyo-e. Instead, his work became focused on landscapes and images of
the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels.
This change of subject was a breakthrough in ukiyo-e and in Hokusai's
career. Fireworks at Ryōgoku Bridge (1790) dates from this period
of Hokusai's life.
Height of career
The next period saw Hokusai's association with the Tawaraya School and
the adoption of the name "Tawaraya Sōri". He produced many brush
paintings, called surimono, and illustrations for kyōka ehon
(illustrated book of humorous poems) during this time. In 1798,
Hokusai passed his name on to a pupil and set out as an independent
artist, free from ties to a school for the first time, adopting the
Hokusai was further developing his use of ukiyo-e for
purposes other than portraiture. He had also adopted the name he would
most widely be known by, Katsushika Hokusai, the former name referring
to the part of
Edo where he was born and the latter meaning, 'north
studio'. That year, he published two collections of landscapes, Famous
Sights of the Eastern Capital and Eight Views of Edo. He also began to
attract students of his own, eventually teaching 50 pupils over the
course of his life.
He became increasingly famous over the next decade, both due to his
artwork and his talent for self-promotion. During a
Tokyo festival in
1804, he created a portrait of the
Buddhist priest Daruma said to be
600 feet (180 m) long using a broom and buckets full of ink.
Another story places him in the court of the Shogun Ienari, invited
there to compete with another artist who practised more traditional
brush stroke painting. Hokusai's painting, created in front of the
Shogun, consisted of painting a blue curve on paper, then chasing
across it a chicken whose feet had been dipped in red paint. He
described the painting to the Shogun as a landscape showing the
Tatsuta River with red maple leaves floating in it, winning the
Hokusai collaborate with the popular novelist Takizawa Bakin
on a series of illustrated books. The two did not get along due to
artistic differences, and their collaboration ended during work on
their fourth book. The publisher, given the choice between keeping
Hokusai or Bakin on the project, opted to keep Hokusai, emphasizing
the importance of illustrations in printed works of the period.
Hokusai paid close attention to the production of his work in books.
Two instances are documented in letters he wrote to the publishers and
block cutters involved in the production of his designs in Toshisen
Ehon, a Japanese edition of an anthology of Chinese poetry. Hokusai
writes to the book’s publisher that the blockcutter Egawa Tomekichi,
Hokusai had previously worked and whom he respected, had
strayed from Hokusai’s style in the cutting of certain heads.
Hokusai also wrote directly to another block cutter involved in the
project, Sugita Kinsuke, stating that he disliked the Utagawa-school
style in which Kinsuke had cut the figure’s eyes and noses and that
amendments would need to be made for the final prints to be true to
Hokusai’s style. In his letter,
Hokusai includes illustrated
examples of both his style of illustrating eyes and noses and the
Utagawa–school style. The publisher agreed to make these
alterations, even with hundreds of copies of the book already printed.
To correct these details the already existing cut blocks would be
corrected by use of the Umeki technique. The sections to be corrected
would be removed and a prepared piece of wood inserted, into which the
blockcutter would cut the revised design. Use of the Umeki technique
can be detected by fine break marks bordering the inserted block.
Copies in print of both the original woodblock and those made of
Hokusai’s requested revisions survive, printed in 1833 and 1836
In 1811, at the age of 51,
Hokusai changed his name to Taito and
entered the period in which he created the
Hokusai Manga and various
etehon, or art manuals. These etehon, beginning in 1812 with Quick
Lessons in Simplified Drawing, served as a convenient way to make
money and attract more students.
Manga (meaning random drawings)
included studies in perspective. The first book of Hokusai's
manga, sketches or caricatures that influenced the modern form of
comics known by the same name, was published in 1814. Together, his 12
volumes of manga published before 1820 and three more published
posthumously include thousands of drawings of animals, religious
figures, and everyday people. They often have humorous overtones and
were very popular at the time.
On October 5, 1817, he painted at the
Hongan-ji Nagoya Betsuin
Hongan-ji Nagoya Betsuin in
Nagoya the Big Daruma on paper, measuring 18x10.8 metres, impressing
many onlookers. For this feat he received the name "Darusen" (a
shortened form of Daruma Sensei). Although the original was
destroyed in 1945, promotional handbills from that time survived and
are preserved at the Nagoya City Museum. Based on studies, a
reproduction of the large painting was done at a large public event on
23 November 2017 to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the
painting, using the same size and techniques and material as the
Hokusai changed his name yet again, this time to "Iitsu," a
change which marked the start of a period in which he secured fame as
an artist throughout Japan. His most famous work, Thirty-six Views of
Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa, was produced
in the early 1830s. The results of Hokusai's perspectival studies in
Manga can be seen here in
The Great Wave off Kanagawa
The Great Wave off Kanagawa where he uses
what would have been seen as a western perspective to represent depth
and volume. It proved so popular that
Hokusai later added ten more
prints to the series. Among the other popular series of prints he
published during this time are A Tour of the Waterfalls of the
Oceans of Wisdom
Oceans of Wisdom and Unusual Views of Celebrated Bridges in
the Provinces. He also began producing a number of detailed
individual images of flowers and birds, including the extraordinarily
detailed Poppies and Flock of Chickens.
The Dragon of Smoke Escaping from Mt Fuji
The next period, beginning in 1834, saw
Hokusai working under the name
"Gakyō Rōjin Manji" (The Old Man Mad About Art). It was at this
Hokusai produced One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, another
significant landscape series.
In the postscript to this work,
From the age of six, I had a passion for copying the form of things
and since the age of fifty I have published many drawings, yet of all,
I drew by my seventieth year there is nothing worth taking into
account. At seventy-three years I partly understood the structure of
animals, birds, insects and fishes, and the life of grasses and
plants. And so, at eighty-six I shall progress further; at ninety I
shall even further penetrate their secret meaning, and by one hundred
I shall perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvellous and
divine. When I am one hundred and ten, each dot, each line will
possess a life of its own.
In 1839, a fire destroyed Hokusai's studio and much of his work. By
this time, his career was beginning to fade as younger artists such as
Andō Hiroshige became increasingly popular. But
Hokusai never stopped
painting and completed Ducks in a Stream at the age of 87.
Constantly seeking to produce better work, he apparently exclaimed on
his deathbed, "If only Heaven will give me just another ten
years ... Just another five more years, then I could become a
real painter." He died on May 10, 1849 (18th day of the 4th month of
the 2nd year of the
Kaei era by the old calendar), and was buried at
the Seikyō-ji in
Tokyo (Taito Ward).
The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, 1814
Hokusai also executed erotic art, called Shunga in Japanese. Most
shunga are a type of ukiyo-e, usually executed in woodblock print
format. Translated literally, the Japanese word shunga means
picture of spring; "spring".
Shunga was enjoyed by both men and women of all classes. Superstitions
and customs surrounding shunga suggest as much; in the same way that
it was considered a lucky charm against death for a samurai to carry
shunga, it was considered a protection against fire in merchant
warehouses and the home. From this, we can deduce that samurai,
chonin, and housewives all owned shunga. All three of these groups
would suffer separation from the opposite sex; the samurai lived in
barracks for months at a time, and conjugal separation resulted from
the sankin-kōtai system and the merchants' need to travel to obtain
and sell goods. Records of women obtaining shunga themselves from
book lenders show that they were consumers of it. It was
traditional to present a bride with ukiyo-e depicting erotic scenes
from The Tale of Genji. Shunga may have served as sexual guidance for
the sons and daughters of wealthy families.
Works and influences
Hokusai had a long career, but he produced most of his important work
after age 60. His most popular work is the ukiyo-e series Thirty-six
Views of Mount Fuji, which was created between 1826 and 1833. It
actually consists of 46 prints (10 of them added after initial
publication). In addition, he is responsible for the 1834 One
Hundred Views of
Mount Fuji (富嶽百景, Fugaku Hyakkei), a work
which "is generally considered the masterpiece among his landscape
picture books." His ukiyo-e transformed the art form from a style
of portraiture focused on the courtesans and actors popular during the
Edo period in Japan's cities into a much broader style of art that
focused on landscapes, plants, and animals.
Both Hokusai's choice of art name and frequent depiction of Mount Fuji
stem from his religious beliefs. The name
Hokusai (北斎) means
"North Studio (room)," an abbreviation of Hokushinsai (北辰際) or
North Star Studio."
Hokusai was a member of the
Nichiren sect of
Buddhism, who see the
North Star as associated with the deity Myōken
Mount Fuji has traditionally been linked with
eternal life. This belief can be traced to The Tale of the Bamboo
Cutter, where a goddess deposits the elixir of life on the peak. As
Henry Smith expounds, "Thus from an early time, Mt. Fuji was seen as
the source of the secret of immortality, a tradition that was at the
heart of Hokusai's own obsession with the mountain."
The largest of Hokusai's works is the 15-volume collection Hokusai
Manga (北斎漫画), a book crammed with nearly 4,000 sketches that
was published in 1814. These sketches are often incorrectly
considered the precedent to modern manga, as Hokusai's
Manga is a
collection of sketches (of animals, people, objects, etc.), different
from the story-based comic-book style of modern manga.
Fine Wind, Clear Morning,
from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
Kirifuri waterfall at Kurokami Mountain in Shimotsuke,
from A Tour of Japanese Waterfalls
Cuckoo and Azaleas, 1834
from the Small Flower series
Shunga, from Pining for Love
The Ghost of Oiwa,
from One Hundred Ghost Tales
The Yodo River [Moon],
from Snow, Moon, Blossoms
Tenma Bridge in Setsu Province,
from Rare Views of Famous Japanese Bridges
Chōshi in Shimosha,
from One Thousand Images of the Sea
Lake Suwa in Shinano Province,
from Rare Views of Famous Landscapes
Carp Leaping up a Cascade
The Strong Oi Pouring Sake
Yoshino Waterfalls, where Yoshitsune Washed his Horse,
from A Tour of Japanese Waterfalls
Influences on art and culture
His influences also stretched to his western contemporaries in
nineteenth-century Europe whose new style Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil
in Germany, was influenced by him and by Japanese art in general. This
was also part of the larger Impressionism movement, with similar
Hokusai appearing in
Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
According to the Brooklyn Rail Many artists collected his woodcuts:
Degas, Gauguin, Klimt, Franz Marc, August Macke, Manet, and van Gogh
included. Hermann Obrist's whiplash motif, or Peitschenhieb, which
came to exemplify the new movement, is visibly influenced by Hokusai's
A much more direct influence was Japonism, "which started with a craze
for collecting Japanese art, particularly ukiyo-e, of which some of
the first samples were to be seen in Paris: In about 1856 the French
artist Félix Bracquemond first came across a copy of the sketchbook
Hokusai Manga at the workshop of his printer."
Hokusai inspired the Hugo Award-winning short story by science fiction
author Roger Zelazny, "24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai", in which the
protagonist tours the area surrounding Mount Fuji, stopping at
locations painted by Hokusai.
A 2011 book on mindfulness closes with the poem "
Hokusai Says" by
Roger Keys, preceding it with the explanation that "[s]ometimes poetry
captures the soul of an idea [here, mindfulness] better than anything
One assessment describes
Hokusai as, "since the later nineteenth
century [having] impressed Western artists, critics and art lovers
alike, more, possibly, than any other single Asian artist."
^ Nussbaum, Louis Frédéric. (2005). "Hokusai" in Japan Encyclopedia,
^ Daniel Atkison and Leslie Stewart. "Life and Art of Katsushika
Hokusai" in From the Floating World: Part II: Japanese Relief Prints,
catalogue of an exhibition produced by California State University,
Chico. Retrieved July 9, 2007; Archived November 8, 2002, at the
^ a b Smith[page needed]
^ a b c d e f g Nagata, Seiji. Hokusai: Genius of the Japanese
Ukiyo-e. Kodansha, Tokyo, 1999.[page needed]
^ Kleiner, Fred S. and Christin J. Mamiya, (2009). Gardner's Art
Through the Ages: Non-Western Perspectives, p. 115.
^ a b c d Weston, p. 116
^ a b c d e Nagata[page needed]
^ Weston, pp. 116–117
^ a b c d e f Weston, p. 117
^ "葛飾, 応為 カツシカ, オウイ" (in Japanese). CiNii.
Retrieved May 22, 2017.
^ a b
Hokusai Heaven retrieved March 27, 2009 Archived September 3,
2009, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Weston, p. 117–118
^ a b Weston, p. 118
^ Tinios, Ellis (June 2015). "
Hokusai and his Blockcutters". Print
Quarterly. XXXII (2): 186–191.
^ a b Screech, Timon (2012). "Hokusai's Lines of Sight". Mechademia.
7: 107 – via JSTOR.
^ Weston, p. 118–119
^ a b Weston, p. 119
^ Calza, Gian Carlo. "Hokusau: a Universe" in Hokusai, p. 7. Phaidon
^ Weston, p. 120
^ a b Forbidden Images –
Erotic art from Japan's
Edo Period (in
Finnish). Helsinki, Finland: Helsinki City Art Museum. 2002.
pp. 23–28. ISBN 951-8965-53-6.
^ Kornicki, Peter F. The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the
Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century. Honolulu: University of Hawaii
Press. pp. 331–353. ISBN 0-8248-2337-0.
^ Rhodes, David (November 2011). "
Hokusai Retrospective". The Brooklyn
^ Mark Williams and Danny Penman (2011). Mindfulness: An Eight-Week
Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World," pp. 249, 250-51.
^ Lane, Richard (1985). "Hokusai," Encyclopædia Britannica, v. 5, p.
Lane, Richard. (1978). Images from the Floating World, The Japanese
Print. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192114471; OCLC
Nagata, Seiji (1995). Hokusai: Genius of the Japanese Ukiyo-e.
Kodansha International, Tokyo.
Smith, Henry D. II (1988). Hokusai: One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji.
George Braziller, Inc., Publishers, New York. ISBN 0-8076-1195-6.
Weston, Mark (1999). Giants of Japan: The Lives of Japan's Most
Influential Men and Women. New York: Kodansha International.
Ray, Deborah Kogan (2001). Hokusai: The Man Who Painted a Mountain.
Frances Foster Books, New York. ISBN 0-374-33263-0
Bowie, Theodore (1964). The Drawings of Hokusai. Indiana University
Forrer, Matthi (1988).
Hokusai Rizzoli, New York.
Forrer, Matthi; van Gulik, Willem R., and Kaempfer, Heinz M. (1982).
Hokusai and His School: Paintings, Drawings and Illustrated Books.
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. ISBN 90-70216-02-7
Hillier, Jack (1955). Hokusai: Paintings, Drawings and Woodcuts.
Hillier, Jack (1980). Art of
Hokusai in Book Illustration. Sotheby
Publications, London. ISBN 0-520-04137-2.
Lane, Richard (1989). Hokusai: Life and Work. E.P. Dutton.
van Rappard-Boon, Charlotte (1982).
Hokusai and his School: Japanese
Prints c. 1800–1840 (Catalogue of the Collection of Japanese Prints,
Rijksmuseum, Part III). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Specific works of art
For readers who want more information on specific works of art by
Hokusai, these particular works are recommended.
Hillier, Jack, and Dickens, F. W. (1960). Fugaku Hiyaku-kei (One
Hundred Views of Fuji by Hokusai). Frederick, New York.
Kondo, Ichitaro (1966). Trans. Terry, Charles S. The Thirty-six Views
Mount Fuji by Hokusai. East-West Center, Honolulu.
Michener, James A. (1958). The
Hokusai Sketch-Books: Selections from
the 'Manga'. Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland.
Morse, Peter (1989). Hokusai: One Hundred Poets. George Braziller, New
York. ISBN 0-8076-1213-8.
Narazaki, Muneshige (1968). Trans. Bester, John. Masterworks of
Hokusai – The Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji. Kodansha,
Monographs dedicated to
Hokusai art works:
Goncourt, Edmond de (2014). Essential Hokusai. Bournemouth, Parkstone
International (released in September). ISBN 978-1-78310-128-3.
Goncourt, Edmond de (2014).
Hokusai Mega Square. Bournemouth,
Parkstone International (released in September).
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Katsushika Hokusai.
Hokusai at Encyclopædia Britannica
Hokusai-Museum in Obuse, Japan
Hokusai complete works
Ukiyo-e Prints by Katsushika Hokusai
Hokusai prints at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Hokusai's works at
Tokyo Digital Museum
Biography of Katsushika Hokusai, British Museum
The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife
The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (1816)
Fine Wind, Clear Morning
Fine Wind, Clear Morning (1830–1832)
The Great Wave off Kanagawa
The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1830–1833)
A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces
Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
Oceans of Wisdom
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