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Report on "Hokusai from the British Museum": Going through the paintings that came home from the UK by the Edo period artist Hokusai Katsushika

"Hokusai from the British Museum -together with masterpieces of painting from collections in Japan" is held in Suntory Museum in Tokyo Midtown until June 12th. This article will introduce you to the highlights of the exhibition, along with scenes from the press preview held before the April 16th opening.

The masterpieces of "HOKUSAI" that surprised the West have come back to Tokyo

Hokusai Katsushika was born in 1760 (Houreki 10) in Honjo, Edo (current Sumida Ward, Tokyo). He is known for his "Thirty-SixViews of Mt. Fuji" and "Hokusai Manga." His works show the landscapes, people, and culture of the good old Edo period, giving us strong emotions. On the other hand, the works of Hokusai reached the West after the Meiji period and shocked the masters of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism such as van Gogh and Monet. He gave a large influence on Japonism (a trend of Japanese culture) centered around France.

The British Museum in London is a base where more than 800 works of Hokusai are stored. "Thirty-SixViews of Mt. Fuji" is displayed in the Japanese Gallery. Of the large Hokusai collection, 108 works arrive in Japan. Also, 8 handwritten paintings stored within Japan are also disclosed. The exhibit introduces Hokusai Katsushika's 70 years of paintings, centered around his late years.

Akafuji, Kurofuji, The Great Wave… Even "Minato Ward drawn by Hokusai"

At the symbolic display at the entrance, visitors can immediately see one of Hokusai's masterpieces, "Triumphant Weather," from his "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji". This work is said to be "the most printed print art piece in the world," and is probably the most famous picture in the world depicting Mt. Fuji. It is no exaggeration to say that the "Akafuji" under the blue sky is a sight embedded in the DNA of the Japanese people.

Hokusai Katsushika "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji: Triumphant Weather" Edo Period Tempo 1 - 4 (1830~1833), British Museum

"Chapter 1: From His First Appearance to His 60th Birthday," introduces Hokusai's painting career from his early years to the age of 60. While many of Hokusai's masterpieces from his later years are on display, one of the highlights of the exhibition is the inclusion of valuable works from his early years. For example, "Ichikawa Ebizo no Sanzoku Jitsu wa Bunkaku Shonin" is an actor picture painted when he was in his early 30s, when he studied under his first master, Shunsho Katsukawa, and took the name Shunro Katsukawa. The skillful portrayal of the figures shows that Hokusai possessed outstanding techniques from his early years.

Hokusai Katsushika "Ichikawa Ebizo no Sanzoku Jitsu wa Bunkaku Shonin" Edo Period Kansei 3 (1791), British Museum

In "Chapter 2: Fuji and the Great Wave" and "Chapter 3: The Visible World," visitors can enjoy Hokusai's true masterpieces of landscape painting, including "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji," which he worked on for four years from Tempo 1, when he turned 71, and the "Shokoku Taki Mawari" and "Shokoku Meibashi Kiran," which was created after that.

The displayed 18 works of "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji" shows the flow of Hokusai's work from his early period, when he mainly used the "Hokusai blue" (tongue-and-groove indigo) to his later period, when he gradually increased the number of colors in his prints. In the display case, which is always crowded with visitors, is "Kanagawa Okinamiura," one of Hokusai's three most famous works. Nearby is "Yamashita Shirasame," aka "Kurofuji," which is often paired with the "Triumphant Weather" mentioned earlier.

Hokusai Katsushika "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji: The Great Wave off Kanagawa" Edo Period Kansei 3 (1791), British Museum

Hokusai Katsushika "Shokoku Taki Mawari Toto Aoigaoka no Taki" Edo Period Tempo 4 (1833), British Museum

On the other hand, from our viewpoint of "Minato-ku lovers," we would like to focus on "Toto Aoigaoka no Taki" from "Shokoku Taki Mawari." This work depicts the Aoigaoka Waterfall, which was located in Toranomon in present-day Minato Ward. Hokusai first called the water flowing from a weir that regulates the flow of rivers and waterways a "waterfall," and from there it became a tourist attraction. Although the landscape no longer remains, the work is a reminder of the connection between Hokusai and Minato Ward.

6 Collectors that Connect the British Museum and Hokusai

Behind the British Museum's one of the world's leading Hokusai collections were six British collectors who came to Japan or took an interest in Japan after the country opened to the outside world and collected Hokusai's works. One of the features of this exhibition is focusing on their activities. The exhibition also includes places introducing each of the six collectors and their works including works by Hokusai and other collectors of Japanese art.

One of the earliest visitors fascinated by Hokusai's works was a doctor named William Anderson, who came to Japan as a hired foreigner in 1873. He taught at the Tokyo Naval Medical Academy, and during his seven years in Japan, he purchased over 2,000 Oriental paintings, including "Tamecho-zu" and "Morning Glory with Cormorants." Upon his return to Japan, he not only contributed to the British Museum's Japanese collection by selling those works, but also made Hokusai's name known in the West by leaving behind the first book on the history of Japanese art written in English, "The Pictorial Arts of Japan."

Laurence Binyon 'A Catalogue of Japanese & Chinese Woodcuts' 1916 British Museum

On the other hand, portraitist Charles Hazelwood Shannon was one of those who became fascinated by Hokusai and became a collector. He had been interested in Japanese art since the 1880s and, citing Western masters who were contemporaries of Hokusai, said, "Turner was a man of exceptional creative ability, but as a designer of landscapes he was not as good as Hokusai. Hokusai was also a great figure painter," he praised. These words tell the impact of Hokusai's work, which shook the Western art world at the time.

Westerners were fascinated by Hokusai at a time when the connection between Japan and the West was not as strong as it is today. His achievements are a very valuable record for Japanese art.

Masterpieces of hand paintings by Hokusai in his last years

The view from the staircase connecting the third and fourth floors is beautifully decorated with a large hanging scroll-like tapestry.

From here, the exhibition continues with "Chapter 4: The World of Imagination," where Hokusai's unique interpretation of Chinese poetry, great figures, beliefs, and fantasies are expressed, "Chapter 5: Around Hokusai," in which Hokusai's daughter Oui, who supported him in his later years and was herself an excellent painter, is shown with her "Onna Shuhoki," and "Chapter 6: The Realm of God: Masterpieces of Hand Paintings.

Hokusai Katsushika "Hyakumonogatari Warai Hannya" Edo Period Tempo 4 (1833), British Museum

Oui Katsushika "Onna Shuhoki" Koka 4 (1847), British Museum

The finale, Chapter 6, is a collection of Hokusai's paintings in the British Museum and other museums in Japan. Hokusai produced a large number of paintings during his lifetime, but it was from his 40s to mid-50s and from the age of 75 to his final years that he was most active in the production of his own hand paintings. Hokusai's hand paintings show his skills more vividly than his prints, which are produced by engravers and printers.

Left: Hokusai Katsushika "Kawahone ni U Zu" Koka 4 (1847) Right: Hokusai Katsushika "Ryusui ni Kamo Zu" Koka 4 (1847) Both in the British Museum

Among his masterpieces, "Ducks in Running Water," owned by the British Museum, was painted when he was 88 years old. The ducks floating on the surface of the water are painted in such detail and with such masterful brushwork that it is hard to believe that the artist had reached the age of 88. It shows Hokusai's undiminished passion and glimmering life.

Hokusai Katsushika "Keshi" Tempo 2 - 3 (1831~1832), British Museum

Hokusai Katsushika "Ehon Saishikitsu" Kaei 1 (1848), British Museum

"Triumphant Weather" and "Great Wave off Kanagawa" are works that tell the dynamism of nature, while landscapes that comically depict ordinary people in the Edo period and beautiful flower-and-bird paintings will also be on display, making this exhibition a good introduction to Japanese art and Ukiyo-e for visitors who are not art fans. Admission to the Suntory Museum of Art is free for junior high school students and younger. In addition, the museum distributes "Wakuwaku Worksheet," a booklet for elementary and junior high school students that makes viewing Hokusai's works more enjoyable. This is a chance to experience real art and view masterpieces in an easy-to-understand manner. This exhibition is also recommended for family outings during Golden Week.

"Hokusai from the British Museum -together with masterpieces of painting from collections in Japan" will be held at the Suntory Museum of Art in Tokyo Midtown, Minato, until June 12 (Sun). Come and enjoy the masterpieces of "HOKUSAI" that went to the West.
"Hokusai from the British Museum -together with masterpieces of painting from collections in Japan"
Venue: Suntory Museum (Tokyo Midtown Galleria 3rd Floor, 9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato, Tokyo)
Opening Dates: April 16th (Sat) - June 12th (Sun), 2022
Opening Hours: 10 AM - 6 PM (Fri/Sat: 10 AM - 8 PM)
*April 28th (Thu), May 2nd (Mon) - 4th (Wed): Open until 8 PM
*Entry allowed until 30 minutes before closing
*Opening hours are subject to change
Closed: Every Tuesday
*Open on May 3rd and June 7th
Fees: Adults 1700 yen, University/High school students 1200 yen
*Free admission for junior high school students and younger
*For those with a disability certificate, admission is free for the disabled and one caregiver.
For more information, please access the official website below

For the protection of works, displayed exhibits may change during the exhibition period.

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