Katsushika Hokusai was born in 1760 in
Edo, Japan. He was a Japanese master artist and produced the ukiyo-e1. The ukiyo-e is the
Japanese style of woodblock print making. Throughout his life, he took on at
least thirty different names that suited each phase he went through. In 1797,
he began going by the name of Katsushika Hokusai.2 He was adopted in
childhood by a prestigious artisan family named Nakajima and
became interested in drawing when he was five. Hokusai is said to have served in his youth as clerk
in a lending bookshop. As a teenager, he was apprenticed to a wood-block
engraver, which later influenced him as an artist.
married sometime in his mid-20s. In the influence of family life, one can see
his designs tended to turn from prints of actors and women to historical,
landscape subjects, and a bit of children. He himself had a daughter who
inherited his artistic talent, Eijo.
There even is an anime about her.3 Hokusai was quite fond of
displaying his artistic prowess in public. He would produce huge paintings of
mythological figures before festival crowds and was once even summoned to show
his artistic skills before the shogun. Hokusai’s daily routine consisted of
rising early, painting throughout the day, and until well after dark.
Hokusai was interested in oblique angles,
contrasts of near and far, and contrasts of manmade and the natural. These can
be seen in Under the Wave off Kanagawa through the placement
of the large wave in the foreground that dwarfs the small mountain in the
distance, as well as having men and boats among the powerful waves. His is most
famously known for his woodblock print
the Great Wave off Kanagawa. This is from his “Thirty-Six Views of
Mount Fuji” series. He learned about
Western prints in Japan through Dutch trade. From the
Dutch artwork Hokusai became interested in linear perspective.4 Subsequently, Hokusai
created a Japanese variant of linear perspective. The influence of Dutch art
can also be seen in his use of a low horizon line and in use of the distinctive
European color, Prussian blue.
The Great Wave Off Kanagawa draws your
attention first to the great, large wave. It takes up most of the page and
seems to engulf Mount Fuji. There are three fishing boats struggling to fight
the wave as they are being drawn in. However, two boats are close to being
flipped over as one is closest to the Great Wave and passes its side and the
other one surrounded by a smaller wave. The last boat is directly under the path
of Great Wave. There seems to be another, possibly as tall, wave like the Great
Wave on the right side of the print. Though only half is shown.
Hokusai’s wood block print gives a very
ominous feel from the pale-yellow sky that looks like fumes of smoke. It also
has smoky hints once it is closer to earth around the mountain. The waves are
two toned with a dark blue and a paler blue to give them depth, but are mainly
dark blue. There is a great deal of white in the waves as they are churning a
lot and adding air into the waves. Hokusai shades the white of the waves with a
baby blue for a bit of depth. He also portrays the waves to be splashing and
you can see a little rain of white to convey that.
Mount Fuji blends in with the waves. This
is due to its purply-blue color. Also, there is a boat blocking the view of the
mountain so it is hard to distinguish the mountain from a wave. Mount Fuji seems
to be tiny compared to the Great Wave which is emphasizing how monstrous of a
wave it was. In reality, Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest peak at 3,776 meters.
This puts in perspective to how large the wave might have been assuming it was
at least the same height.
1 ukiyo-e means “pictures of the
2 Lane, Richard.
“Hokusai.” Encyclopædia Britannica. November 15, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hokusai.
3 It is http://www.watchanimemovie.com/?s=Miss+Hokusai
in case you wanted to see
4 Lane “Hokusai.”