Art Appreciation: Katsushika Hokusai


I have a stack of Economist magazines from last year that I never got around to reading. Today I went through a couple finally trying to catch up. It was interesting to read the world news of the moment a year removed; to see what they got wrong and what’s still important.

An article about an exhibit on the work of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) caught my eye with a graphic of his work, “The Great Wave.” This painting is familiar to me for some reason, but only peripherally. Perhaps it decorates the interior of a restaurant I like. I had NO IDEA that it was painted in the 1830s, and that Hokusai’s work inspired the likes of Van Gogh (1853-1890).

“The Great Wave” is a woodblock print, meaning the work was easily reproducible and available to Hokusai’s patrons for about “the price of a big bowl of noodle soup.” This was humble art made for the people. Of the nearly 5,000 copies made in Hokusai’s lifetime very few remain, the ones around today being the survivors of natural disasters, world wars, and almost 200 years time.

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