A Brief History
The Great Wave off Kanagawa, 1829 CE, Boxer Briefs
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Mount Fuji, the sacred mountain of Japan, anchors the center of this iconic image of a wave crashing violently over a group of fishing boats. It was the first installment of Katsushika Hokusai’s most famous work, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a series of ground-breaking prints collectively known as “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.”
Katsushika Hokusai had a long and prolific artistic career in 19th century Japan. He trained from an early age in the art of ukiyo-e, a form of Japanese woodblock printing, and produced hundreds of pieces in his lifetime. But he also chose to challenge ukiyo-e tradition. Many of Hokusai’s works featured natural landscapes rather than courtesans, kabuki dancers, and city life common in art of the day. He also broke new artistic ground by adopting the Western approach to perspective that he had learned by studying European engravings smuggled into Imperial Japan. When Prussian blue, one of the world’s first synthetic pigments, became widely available, Hokusai was the first Japanese printmaker to enhance his prints with a color formerly too expensive to be used in mass print production.
Hokusai’s art appeared in book illustrations, toy prints, board games, murals, and wall hangings. Hokusai shared his passion for creating art - and promoted his own notoriety - by teaching and publishing the popular Hokusai Manga, a sort of sketch-reference book.
Being printed from a set of woodblocks, The Great Wave was reproduced hundreds, maybe thousands of times before the blocks began to show signs of deterioration. Full sets of the series still exist in collections around the world. Sadly, one set met its demise when the cruise-ship Costa Concordia ran aground and sank off Italy in 2012.