If someone were to mention Asian or Japanese artists and artworks, what is usually the first thing that comes to mind? More often than not, it's Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa. As a piece that has literally made waves throughout art history not just in Japan, but globally, having a “Great Wave” art poster displayed in your own home should no longer come as a surprise.
However, what's the history behind Hokusai and “The Great Wave”, and what kind of impact has it made, exactly, on the global stage? That's what this article is looking to reveal.
Ukiyo-e: Japanese Woodblock Prints
Ukiyo-e refers to the genre of Japanese art that's composed of woodblock prints and paintings. This genre flourished throughout the 17th to 19th centuries. The term "ukiyo-e" itself can be directly translated as "pictures of the floating world" and the subjects of this genre ranged from scenes from history and folktales, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, to scenes and landscapes.
The production of ukiyo-e art usually undergoes several stages.
It begins with the publisher commissioning an artist or painter to produce a design. Once the design was approved, it would then be turned over to the carver, who would carve the woodblocks based on the approved design. Finally, the woodblocks would then be inked and pressed onto traditional Japanese handmade paper, or washi, and then submitted to the publisher.
The publisher was then responsible for distributing and selling the prints.
The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji
If you consider yourself pretty familiar and well-versed in the world of art, you'll probably have seen and recognized Hokusai's work through the many posters and prints of The Great Wave.
The truth is, Hokusai's iconic Great Wave off Kanagawa is actually only a part of a series of landscape prints that the artists produced between 1830 to 1832. The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji all depict the sacred Mount Fuji from a number of different locations, seasons, and weather conditions.
Mount Fuji's significance in Japanese art and culture is huge, as the mountain has often been a source of artistic inspiration for not only Japanese artists, but artists from other countries as well. Mount Fuji also holds an important place in Japanese religion, and is often seen as the source and secret of immortality.
Other popular works in the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji include Fine Wind, Clear Morning, Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit, and Kajikazawa in Kai Province. However, nothing remains as iconic as The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Even today, you'll find many The Great Wave art posters, prints, or other items for sale at many art and fashion stores and outlets.
The Great Wave Off Kanagawa's Influence on Western Art
While it was never confirmed if Van Gogh ever owned a print of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Van Gogh was said to have been captivated by The Great Wave when he saw it in Paris that in a letter he wrote to his brother, Theo, he said, "These waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it." In fact, it was relatively known that Van Gogh was a fan of Japanese prints.
Martin Bailey, author of Starry Night: Van Gogh at the Asylum, notes that you'll occasionally find Japanese prints appearing in the background of some of Van Gogh's self-portraits. What's more, when he died, it was discovered that Van Gogh even had a collection of over 500 Japanese works.
All the more reason for every art lover and enthusiast to try to acquire their own The Great Wave art poster.
Japanese Art and the Global Stage
Japanese art continues to be relevant, especially on the global stage. Not only has Hokusai influenced the works of important and well-known artists like Monet and Van Gogh, but even contemporary Japanese artists like Yayoi Kusama continue to play a role in the world of art.
In fact, Kusama herself has asserted that artists like Warhol, Oldenberg, and Samaras copied her work. While this may, of course, be contested by historians or the artists themselves, it is important to note that some of Kusama's work did pre-date similar works by the aforementioned artists.
Start Your Own Collection of Japanese Prints & Posters
Japanese art continues to make a big impact throughout the world, not just in the field of fine arts, but also in various mediums around the world. Artists and filmmakers like Haruki Murakami and Makoto Shinkai, for example, are big names in the animation industry and continue to make waves with their works.
Nevertheless, one cannot exclude the enormous influence that Hokusai has had in the realm of art. So if you're looking to start a collection of Hokusai prints and posters, there's no better piece to start with than purchasing a copy of The Great Wave art poster. To acquire your own, simply visit our store here on our website.
Want to experience Hokusai’s original work in person? You can also visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s upcoming exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence, running from March 26 to July 16, 2023. A treat for sure, for fans of this prolific Japanese artist!