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KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI (1760-1849)
KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI (1760-1849)
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PROPERTY FROM A SWISS PRIVATE COLLECTION
KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI (1760-1849)

Kanagawa oki nami ura (Under the well of the Great Wave off Kanagawa)

Details
KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI (1760-1849)
Kanagawa oki nami ura (Under the well of the Great Wave off Kanagawa)
Woodblock print, from the series Fugaku sanjurokkei (Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji), signed Hokusai aratame Iitsu hitsu, published by Nishimuraya Yohachi (Eijudo)
Horizontal oban: 9 7/8 x 14 5/8 in. (25.1 x 37.1 cm.)
Provenance
Dr. Walter Wehrli (1901-1977), Riehen, Switzerland

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Lot Essay

Hokusai was obsessed by wave imagery throughout his long career, but The Great Wave, his best-known print and an icon of Japanese art and design, has dazzled generations of Western artists, not to mention collectors. Less well known is the fact that Hokusai himself took inspiration from the West, specifically from eighteenth-century Dutch imagery in imported manuals on perspective and from colleagues who worked in Western style. He became interested in linear perspective and Western techniques early in his career. The starting point for Hokusai is his 1805 woodblock print of a tsunami-like wave cresting ominously over three small cargo boats in a print that predates The Great Wave by thirty years. Mindful of the latest fashions, he was obviously imitating a Dutch copperplate engraving, complete with perspective and simulated roman script. He even imitated a Western frame and wrote the title horizontally. Shiba Kokan (1747–1818) made etchings as early as the 1780s and brought the vue d’optique into the Japanese arena. By the early years of the nineteenth century, Hokusai was translating the effects of copperplate into the medium of woodblock prints. For a detailed review of this subject, see Timon Screech, “The Meaning of Western Perspective in Edo Popular Culture,” Archives of Asian Art, vol. 47 (1994).
This experimentation with Western notions appears most obvious in a schematic study in spatial recession in the Hokusai Manga, in 1815. Hokusai demonstrates rules of Western linear perspective to create space and depth, with large objects placed conspicuously in the foreground. Hokusai adopted these principles only when he wanted, and only if they were meaningful to his design, as in the case of The Great Wave in 1830.

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