Ukiyo-e Master – Hokusai’s Most Interesting Subjects

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is considered one of Japan’s favorite artists due to his immense talent and influence on the art world both in Japan and internationally. Hokusai is best known for his woodblock prints, particularly his series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,” which includes the famous print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Hokusaiw

One reason for Hokusai’s popularity is his skillful use of color, composition, and technique, which revolutionized the art of ukiyo-e and helped to elevate it from a commercial form of printing to a respected art form. Hokusai’s prints are characterized by their intricate details, dynamic compositions, and bold use of color, all of which helped to establish a new style in Japanese art.

Katsushika Hokusai produced a wide range of subject matter throughout his career, including landscapes, seascapes, nature, people, and mythology. He is best known for his series of prints, including “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,” which depict the iconic mountain from different angles and in various weather conditions.

Red Fuji Hokusai

In addition to his landscapes and natural scenes, Hokusai also depicted everyday life in Japan, including scenes from the city and the countryside. He was interested in the people and culture of Japan, and many of his prints depict everyday people going about their lives, from fishermen and farmers to street vendors and courtesans.  His most famous work being 36 Views of Mt. Fuji.

Hokusai’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” is a series of ukiyo-e woodblock prints that were created between 1830 and 1833. The series consists of 46 prints, with the title referring to the fact that there are 36 prints of Mount Fuji, plus an additional 10 prints that depict Mount Fuji in some way.

The prints in the series depict Mount Fuji from a variety of angles and in various weather conditions, showing the mountain in different seasons and times of day. The series is particularly famous for its depiction of the iconic print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” which shows a large wave towering over boats in the foreground, with Mount Fuji in the background.

The series was created during a time when travel and tourism were becoming increasingly popular in Japan, and the prints were intended to appeal to travelers and visitors to the country. The series was also created at a time when Japan was experiencing significant political and social changes, and the prints reflect this changing landscape.

The prints in the series are characterized by their dynamic composition, vivid colors, and attention to detail, showcasing Hokusai’s skills as an artist and his ability to capture the beauty and essence of Japan’s natural world.

Hokusai 36 Views of Mt Fuji

Hokusai was also known for his depictions of animals, particularly birds and fish. His series “Hokusai Manga” includes hundreds of sketches of animals and people in a wide range of situations, from humorous and playful to serious and contemplative.  Hokusai’s “Manga” is a collection of sketches and drawings that were published in multiple volumes between 1814 and 1834.

Page from Hokusais Manga

The word “manga” in this context refers to a type of sketchbook rather than the contemporary meaning of manga as Japanese comics. The “Manga” is a wide-ranging collection of over 4,000 sketches and illustrations that showcase Hokusai’s skills as an artist and his vast imagination. The sketches cover a wide variety of subjects, including landscapes, animals, people, mythical creatures, and everyday objects.

The sketches are drawn in a loose and free-flowing style, which reflects Hokusai’s interest in capturing the essence of his subjects rather than creating a polished finished work. Many of the sketches are humorous and playful, showing Hokusai’s wit and whimsy.

The “Manga” was intended to be a reference book for other artists and was widely popular in Japan during Hokusai’s lifetime. It was also influential in the development of modern manga and anime, which drew inspiration from Hokusai’s use of dynamic compositions, exaggerated poses, and facial expressions.

Additionally, Hokusai was interested in mythology and the supernatural, and many of his prints depict legendary creatures such as dragons and ghosts, as well as gods and goddesses from Japanese folklore.

Hokusai produced a wide variety of prints that depict mythology and supernatural subjects. He drew inspiration from Japanese folklore and mythology, as well as his own imagination, to create vivid and compelling works that continue to fascinate and inspire viewers today. Some of his most famous works in this genre include:

  1. “One Hundred Ghost Tales” – a series of prints that depict supernatural creatures and ghost stories from Japanese folklore.
  2. “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” – an erotic print that shows a woman being pleasured by a pair of octopuses.
  3. “The Ghost of Oiwa” – a print that depicts the ghost of a woman who was murdered by her husband, seeking revenge on her killer.
  4. “Dragon and Tiger” – a print that shows a fierce battle between a dragon and a tiger, symbolizing the struggle between opposing forces in the universe.
  5. “The Sea Monster” – a print that depicts a giant octopus attacking a ship, a popular theme in Japanese mythology.
  6. “The Gods of Wind and Thunder” – a print that shows two powerful deities in Japanese mythology, Fujin and Raijin, who control the winds and thunder respectively.

    Hokusai Ghost Stories

Overall, Hokusai’s subject matter was diverse and reflected his wide-ranging interests and talents. His prints and paintings continue to be admired for their beauty, skill, and ability to capture the essence of life in Japan during the Edo period.


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