Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)
Katsushika Hokusai was born in Edo, in 1760, apparently the son of an artisan. Hokusai is one of the great masters of Japanese woodblock print and one of the great creative and innovative genius of all time. Being the best known of Japanese artists, and having had a profound influence in western art (and in particular in the Impressionists), he is however very "unJapanese" in his character and in his work.
He worked for a very long time and, characteristically, was at his best by the end of his years. His career started when he become an apprentice as an engraver when he was fourteen. At eighteen he entered the studio of Katsukawa Shunsho, an important artist of theatrical prints. One year after he published his first works, actor prints, under the name Shunro.
Hokusai produced good prints in the 1780s, under the influence of Shigemasa and Kiyonaga, but the first important masterpieces were designed, under the name Kako, the following decade. He first adopted the name Hokusai in 1797, at the start of the first of several important periods, this one dedicated to the production of surinomo and illustrated books.
Hokusai was drawn by diverse artistic influences, among which we must include Chinese art and Western art, that was starting to be known and discussed in Japan. These influences create a difference from the other Ukiyo-e and help to make Hokusai an universal artist.
His greatest productions are the "Famous Places of Edo", from 1800; the fifteen sketch books published since 1814 under the title "Hokusai Manga"; and the series dedicated to Mount Fuji: "The 36 Views of Mount Fuji" (actually with 46 plates) from the early 1830s and the three volumes of "One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji", from 1834-35.
Hokusai had a prodigious energy, and we own to him, in great measure, the establishment of landscape prints and birds and flowers (kacho-e)prints as independent genres in the Ukiyo-e prints. His creative capacity was intimately linked with is restlessness, which made him quite different from the usual Japanese in his time, and which is well illustrated by the number of different names he is said to have used throughout his career (twenty-six) and by the number of different addresses he had throughout his life (ninety-three).
When he was seventy-five Hokusai wrote, in the preface to the "One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji", the following lines about his life and his program to the future:
"From the age of five I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note. At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own. I only beg that others of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words."