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22:21 16 January 2017

British Museum to explore later life of Hokusai in major exhibition

By Rhyannon Bartlett-Imadegawa
LONDON, Jan. 16, Kyodo

A large-scale exhibition bringing together over 100 woodblock prints and painted works of Japanese ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai will be held at the British Museum from May to August, with a similar exhibition planned in Osaka in the autumn.

Titled "Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave," the exhibition will focus on the artist's later life, personal beliefs and artwork, including and after his most widely recognized work, "The Great Wave off Kanagawa," which he produced at around age 70.

"He very fervently believed that the older he got, the greater his art would become, and this exhibition basically agrees with that premise," said Tim Clark, head of the Japanese Section at the British Museum.

It will be the first exhibition in Britain to explore the later life of the artist, who died in 1849 aged 90, with many of the works being displayed for the first time in the country.

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said the exhibition will offer visitors a rare chance to see "astonishing pieces" of artwork because they cannot be kept on permanent display "due to their light sensitivity and to preserve their vivid colors."

Bringing together the museum's own collections and with loans from Japan, the United States and Europe, around 110 works will be on show at any time.

Shugo Asano, director of the Abeno Harukas Art Museum in Osaka, closely collaborated on the project and a similar exhibition called "Hokusai - Fuji o koete" will be held there later in the year.

Clark, who was behind the well-received 2013-14 exhibition of Japanese "shunga" erotic art at the British Museum, added the organizers hoped to introduce people to Hokusai's painted works, while shedding new light on his more famous works.

Speaking on Hokusai's best-known print depicting large waves with Mt. Fuji in the background, Clark said, "We think of it as the Great Wave that sets off Japonism in the West and of course that's true, but the back story is that there's already been an awful lot of cultural cross-fertilization between Europe and Japan."

Not only does the work play with European perspective, the Prussian blue pigment employed was only just starting to be used in printing at the time.

While we may now see the print as the embodiment of traditional Japanese art, in 1831 when the print was published, the Japanese public would have seen it as an "exotic image," Clark explained.

A significant loan for this exhibition are the painted ceiling panels of a festival cart Hokusai painted in 1845, from the Hokusai Museum in the town of Obuse, Nagano Prefecture.

Clark said, "A lot of Hokusai's works were surely contextual works, applied works of this kind, but it's only the fact that these works were done by him when he visited Obuse that they've survived."

Many of Hokusai's works in Edo, the old name for modern-day Tokyo, would have most likely been destroyed by natural disasters and war.

Alongside his artwork, the exhibition will look at Hokusai's later life, a significant aspect of which was his relationship with his daughter, who used the art name Oi. An artist in her own right, she lived and worked with him for the last two decades of his life.

"Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave" runs from May 25 to Aug. 13, with a temporary closure period between July 3 to 6 for a changeover of works on display.

"Hokusai - Fuji o koete" will run at the Abeno Harukas Art Museum, Osaka, from Oct. 6 to Nov. 19.


  • British Museum to exhibit Hokusai works


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