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Smithsonian displaying Hokusai masterpieces, including "Great Wave"

Happy News: Smithsonian shows artwork by Hokusai

A show opening Saturday at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery includes Hokusai’s original color print – a tsunami-like breaker threatening a small boat, with Mount Fuji in the background. Japan’s sacred mountain was a favorite subject and this scene comes from one of his most famous books, “36 Views of Mount Fuji.”

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The exhibit ranges from a 47-foot scroll, too long to be completely unrolled in the show, to samples from his 15 volumes of random sketches called “manga.” It’s the same word used for the comic books that are now favorite reading on Tokyo subways. On the scroll, one of the many scenes shows a cat gazing at a butterfly.

I was lucky enough to see “Great Wave” in the Tokyo National Museum in 2001.

Horrible photo of Hokusai's ''Great Wave''

I was looking forward to seeing it again in 2003, but it wasn’t there. (The Smithsonian’s site lists it as belonging to “The Mann Collection, Highland Park, Illinois”. Being as famous as it is, I’m sure it gets around.)

“Great Wave” is an ukiyo-e, or “woodblock print”. Hokusai created it by carving the image into a piece of wood, then applying the proper colors to the wood, and finally pressing the block to paper.

The Tokyo National Museum gift shop sells “reprints” made using the original block. I wanted to buy one both times I was there, but both times I was dissuaded by money. Maybe next time :)

In the meantime, the Smithsonian’s show is looking mighty appealing.

Smithsonian: Hokusai Exhibition: March 4-May 14, 2006

The exhibition of more than 180 paintings, prints, drawings and printed books brings together for the first time 41 paintings from the Freer Gallery of Art, the largest and most important collection of paintings by Hokusai, with masterpieces from museum, library and private collections throughout the world. Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), founder of the Freer Gallery, collected most of the Gallery’s Hokusai paintings, drawings, and prints between 1898 and 1907. “Hokusai” celebrates the 100th anniversary of the official gift by Freer of his art collection and museum to the United States.

(I love that “largest and most important” bit. Arrogant much? ;>)