Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave
25 May – 13 August 2017
The first UK survey charting the later years of one of Japan's most influential and celebrated artists.
Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa (or the Great Wave as it is colloquially known) is perhaps the most internationally recognisable example of Japanese printmaking in the world. However, it is in fact one of a series of 36 views of Mount Fuji, and is not nearly as famous as its counterpart Clear Day with a Southern Breeze (Red Fuji) in Hokusai’s native Japan.
In what is the first major UK exhibition to explore the last 30 years of the artist’s life, this pair of important prints from the British Museum collection (the former was acquired with Art Fund support in 2008) will be shown alongside significant loans, including two magnificent painted ceiling panels from Hokusaikan and a depiction of the Red Shoki (or demon queller) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The display will be rotated half way through the show’s run in order to preserve the delicate nature of many of the works and also offers a chance to see over 100 pieces in total.
Throughout his career, Hokusai portrayed mythical beasts, holy men, beautiful women and stunning landscapes, marrying traditional Japanese techniques and newer European influences including utilising the Prussian blue pigment that typifies the Great Wave.
However, despite his significant success, Hokusai’s life was not without struggle. By the late 1820s he suffered the death of his wife, his own illness and financial trouble. His daughter Eijo (a celebrated artist in her own right) moved into his modest home in order to care for her ailing father and the pair worked side by side, producing a huge number of portraits and sketches – albeit in squalid surroundings.
This show has a renewed focus on this lesser-known aspect of Hokusai's practice, while also bringing to light many sketches that he produced in order to be able to pass down the 'divine teaching' of his artistic gift to his students.
Some of Hokusai’s last works are on show, including a hanging scroll painted a few months before his death, aged 90. This powerful ink work depicts a dragon clouded in black smoke, rising from behind Mount Fuji. The piece was created on the day of the dragon, and Hokusai was born in the year of the fantastical beast.