“I have drawn things since I was six. All that I made before the age of sixty-five is not worth counting…” – Katsushika Hokusai
Last month the Metropolitan Museum of Art gave a great gift to us all – some 400,000 works of art were made available for download in high resolution, i.e. allowing you to examine all the tiny details of the works from the Met’s collection. It is also a particularly priceless opportunity to look closely at art works that are not on view. Among them is the series of woodblock prints Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai – a landmark in Japanese printmaking and the most celebrated body of work by one of the greatest Japanese artists of the 19th century. None of these prints is currently on view probably due to the concerns that the paper might darken and the pigments fade as a result of the exposure to light.
Hokusai developed late as an artist and started the series at the age of 70, drawing, printing and cutting wood blocks for publishers and other artists prior to that. At the age of seventy-five he said about himself: “I have drawn things since I was six. All that I made before the age of sixty-five is not worth counting. At seventy-three I began to understand the true construction of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes and insects. At ninety I will enter into the secret of things. At a hundred I shall certainly have reached a magnificent level; and when I am a hundred and ten, everything-every dot, every dash — will live.”
Although Hokusai did not live to 100, he left behind an extraordinary bulk of work: thousands of drawings, sketches, prints, paintings and even few instructional books. Would Ukiyo-e prints ever be the same if there was no Hokusai? Definitely not!
Thirty-six View of Mount Fuji strikes the viewer with its diversity of compositions and scenes that seem never to repeat each other. The series includes close-up views of the sacred mountain where it appears alone in its majesty depicted throughout the seasons and weather conditions; as well as distant (and very distant) views where it rather serves as a constant for every-day life scenes. Hokusai travelled around Mt. Fuji to depict the variety of activities of ordinary people within the presence of the sacred mountain, making landscape the major theme for the first time in the history of Japanese prints.
Read more about the most renowned work from the series The Great Wave off Kanagawa
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