Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:
Hokusai's work typified that type of Japanese art which we now call ukiyoe ("pictures of the floating world") so we, with our incessant need to classify All Things Art, label him as an Ukiyo-e artist.
That is, however, a rather limiting description of Hokusai's art. He also exemplified styles ranging from the Kanō (15th-century secular ink painters) and Sumiyoshi schools, to shunga (erotic pictures), with numerous styles of 18th - 19th century Japanese illustration in between.
Date and Place of Birth:
September 23 (per the Hokusai Museum), 1760, in the Honjo Warigesui district, Edo (now Tokyo)
Hokusai's childhood name is widely supposed to have been Tokitaro, but hold on. Over the course of his next, just-shy-of-90 years, he went by no fewer than 30 different names including Shunrō, Sōri, Kakō, Tatsumasa, Gakyōjin, Taito, Iichi, and Manji (and those are merely the better-known ones). Word of friendly advice? Modern scholarship sticks with "Hokusai," often without the "Katsushika."
Born to an artisan family, Hokusai was apprenticed to a woodblock engraver at a young age. By the time he was 19, the leading ukiyoe master, Katsukawa Shunshō, had taken him on as a pupil and Hokusai was more-or-less formally introduced to artistic society at age 20. Once he began receiving paying commissions there was no turning back, and he'd parted ways with the Katsukawa school by 1795. Until he died, however, he never ceased learning all he could about art from ukiyoe (and other) masters.
Early on in this quest for knowledge, Hokusai was exposed to Western art and quickly picked up (traditionally non-Japanese) artistic techniques such as one-point perspective. It's hard to describe the tremendous impact this chance encounter had on Art History from there on out. It led Hokusai to an entirely new style of ukiyoe that continues to echo in Japanese art to this day. And, unbeknownst to Hokusai, his new style would travel back to Western art and directly influence its future.
Over the course of his long life, Hokusai continued to operate with a restless, incessant thirst for creation. Though he was frequently (and rather proudly) broke, he never turned down a job, whether it was for a distinguished publisher or a brothel. He changed his residence over 90 times, marketed himself with pure genius, enjoyed fame in his own lifetime and painted until he died at a ripe old age. Conservative estimates mark his total output at an astounding 30,000 pieces.
These days, many people - readers and employed artists, alike - owe him a debt of gratitude for originating manga as an art form. We also often tend to think of him as a (if not the) "classic" Japanese artist - a tendency that needs to be re-examined. In his time, Hokusai's art was radically different and very un-Japanese. It's just one of those weird twists of fate that the French Impressionists (and beyond) mistakenly believed Hokusai's original style represented all of Japanese art.
- Fukujusô shunga series, ca. 1784
- Hokusai Manga, 15 volumes; published 1814–78, the last volume was published posthumously
- Fugaku sanjūrokkei ("Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji") series of 46 prints, published 1830. This included:
The Great Wave at Kanagawa, ca. 1830
- Shokoku taki meguri ("A journey to the waterfalls of all the provinces") series, published ca. 1831
- Shokoku meikyō kiran ("A journey along the bridges in all the provinces") series, published ca. 1831–32
Date and Place of Death:
April 18, 1849, at the precinct of Henjoin temple in Shoden-cho, Asakusa, Edo (now Tokyo)
How to Pronounce "Hokusai":
A Quote From Katsushika Hokusai:
- "If heaven gives me ten more years, or an extension of even five years, I shall surely become a true artist." - said shortly before his death at age 89.
Sources and Further Reading
- Calza, Gian Carlo. Hokusai.
London: Phaidon Press, 2004.
- Forrer, Matthi; de Goncourt, Edmond. Hokusai.
London and Paris: Rizzoli, 1988.
- Hokusai Bijutsukan (5 vols.).
Tokyo: Hokusai Art Museum, 1990.
- Hokusai. Hokusai Sketchbooks: Selections from the Manga.
Rutland: C E Tuttle Co., 1958.
- Lane, Richard. Hokusai: Life and Work.
New York : E P Dutton, 1989 (1st American ed.).
- Naitô, Masato. "Katsushika Hokusai"
Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 10 December 2005.
Read a review of Grove Art Online.