Katsushika Hokusai was born in 1760 in Edo, Japan. Hokusai was a Japanese master artist that created the Ukiyo-e. The Ukiyo-e is the Japanese style of woodblock print making that means “pictures of the floating world”. Throughout his life, he took on many different names. In 1797, he began going by the name of Katsushika Hokusai. He was adopted in childhood by a prestigious artisan family named Nakajima and became interested in drawing when he was five.
Hokusai is said to have served in his youth as clerk in a lending bookshop. As a teenager, he was apprenticed to a wood-block engraver, which later influenced him as an artist. Hokusai married sometime in his mid-20s.
In the influence of family life, one can see his designs tended to turn from prints of actors and women to historical, landscape subjects, and a bit of children. He himself had a daughter who inherited his artistic talent, Eijo. There even is an anime about her. Hokusai was quite fond of displaying his artistic prowess in public. He would produce huge paintings of mythological figures before festival crowds and was once even summoned to show his artistic skills before the shogun. Hokusai’s daily routine consisted of rising early, painting throughout the day, and until well after dark.
Hokusai was interested in oblique angles, contrasts of near and far, and contrasts of manmade and the natural. These can be seen in Under the Wave off Kanagawa through the placement of the large wave in the foreground that dwarfs the small mountain in the distance, as well as having men and boats among the powerful waves. His is most famously known for his woodblock print the Great Wave off Kanagawa from his “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji”. Hokusai discovered Western prints in Japan through Dutch trade. From the Dutch artwork Hokusai became interested in linear perspective. Subsequently, Hokusai created a Japanese variant of linear perspective. The influence of Dutch art can also be seen in his use of a low horizon line and in use of the distinctive European color, Prussian blue.
Visual AnalysisThe Great Wave Off Kanagawa draws your attention first to the great, large wave. It takes up most of the page and seems to engulf Mount Fuji. There are three fishing boats struggling to fight the wave as they are being drawn in. However, two boats are close to being flipped over as one is closest to the Great Wave and passes its side and the other one surrounded by a smaller wave.
The last boat is directly under the path of Great Wave. There seems to be another, possibly as tall, wave like the Great Wave on the right side of the print. Though only half is shown.Hokusai’s wood block print gives a very ominous feel from the pale-yellow sky that looks like fumes of smoke. It also has smoky hints once it is closer to earth around the mountain. The waves are two toned with a dark blue and a paler blue to give them depth, but are mainly dark blue.
There is a great deal of white in the waves as they are churning a lot and adding air into the waves. Hokusai shades the white of the waves with a baby blue for a bit of depth. He also portrays the waves to be splashing and you can see a little rain of white to convey that. Mount Fuji blends in with the waves. This is due to its purply-blue color. Also, there is a boat blocking the view of the mountain so it is hard to distinguish the mountain from a wave.
Mount Fuji seems to be tiny compared to the Great Wave which is emphasizing how monstrous of a wave it was. In reality, Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest peak at 3,776 meters. This puts in perspective to how large the wave might have been assuming it was at least the same height.