British Museum acquires 103 'lost drawings' by Japanese artist Hokusai with Art Fund support

Devadatta (Daibadatta), appearance of evil spirits with supernatural arts, Katsushika Hokusai, 1829
Devadatta (Daibadatta), appearance of evil spirits with supernatural arts, Katsushika Hokusai, 1829

The newly rediscovered works, which only resurfaced last year, are especially significant as they come from a period in the artist’s career where he was previously thought to have created very little.

For the past 70 years, the existence of over 100 drawings created by Japanese artist Hokusai for an unpublished book called Great Picture Book of Everything had been forgotten. Finished in 1829, these exquisite small illustrations were formerly owned by the collector and Art Nouveau jeweller Henri Vever (1854-1842), but after an auction in 1948 their location was unknown. That was until 2019, when the drawings resurfaced in Paris.

Thanks to Art Fund support, the British Museum has now acquired the works, which are especially significant as they were produced in a period when the artist was thought to be creatively quiet due to a series of personal crises.

Hokusai, whose internationally celebrated work includes the iconic print The Great Wave off Kanagawa, was 70 when he created the drawings, and had just gone through the death of his second wife and recovered from a minor stroke. The discovery of the drawings demonstrates that during this time he was in fact entering a new creative phase that would soon lead to the creation of his famous print series, Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji.

The subjects of the drawings are wide ranging: from the religious and historical to the mythological, and incorporate themes not found in any previous Hokusai works, including fascinating musings on the origins of human culture in ancient China. The pieces are dominated by subjects that relate to ancient China and India, but also Southeast and Central Asia.

This significant acquisition now joins the British Museum’s extensive collection of over 1,000 Hokusai works, one of the most comprehensive outside of Japan. This collection includes a fine early impression of The Great Wave, acquired in 2008 also with Art Fund support. The drawings are planned to go on display as part of a future free exhibition.

Jenny Waldman, Director, Art Fund, said: 'These remarkable prints, hidden from public view for so long, will captivate the British Museum’s audience and beyond. We are delighted to support this important acquisition, considerably enhancing the museum’s outstanding collection of Hokusai’s works, and building on Art Fund’s support for an early print of The Great Wave in 2008.'

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