Friday, April 5, 2024

Japanese Prints in Transition: THE Print --- Day 13/92

Walk: Presidio

Distance: 5 miles 

Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese),Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), also known as The Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei), ca 1830-32, woodblock print, ink and color on paper

Probably the singlemost iconic example of East meets West in the printmaking world is this stunning woodblock by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). In depicting three boats moving through a huge cresting wave in a storm-tossed sea, Hokusai experimented with western linear technique, the first Japanese artist to do so. And his use of Prussian blue in The Great Wave revolutionized Japanese prints.

Hokusai visited the subject of waves multiple times throughout his career, using the few Dutch landscape prints accessible in Japan at the time as source material.  In this print he creates a perspective entirely new to Japanese prints by making the boats in the foreground larger than Mount Fuji in the background.  And he uses rich blues produced using a combination of traditional indigo with the first modern (and Western) pigment, Prussian blue - invented in Germany and imported through Dutch and Chinese trade.

Hokusai's printed fusion of Eastern and Western Influences was wildly heralded by the Impressionists and Post-impressionists in Paris.  Themes echoing his work appeared in works by Monet and Renoir as well as Art Nouveau.  His woodcuts were collected by many European artists including Degas, Gauguin, Klimt, Marc, Manet and van Fogh.  Degas said of him, "Hokusai is not just one artist among others in the Floating World. He is an island, a continent, a whole world in himself."

The French composer Claude Debussy's tone poem La Mer, which debuted in 1905, is believed to have been inspired by Hokusai's print The Great Wave. The composer had an impression of it hanging in his living room and specifically requested that it be used on the cover of the published score, which was widely distributed, and the music itself incorporated Japanese-inflected harmonies.

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