Katsushika Hokusai Japanese Ukiyo-e Artist

Katsushika Hokusai is considered to be one of the most famous figures in art history. We explore his artwork, the value of his prints, and the one-of-a-kind personality of this prolific artist.
Hokusai Japanese Artist Ukiyo-e Master

Published on:

September 13, 2021


hokusai painter

Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese artist who was born in Edo in 1760. He is best known for his woodblock prints, including the iconic “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” Hokusai’s work was influenced by both traditional Japanese art and new Western styles that were introduced in the 18th century. He was a versatile artist who worked in many different mediums, including painting, drawing, and printmaking. Throughout his career, he produced over 30,000 pieces of art. Hokusai died in 1849 at the age of 89. His legacy continues to influence artists around the world.

What Is Hokusai Best Known For?

Although Hokusai was considered successful as an artist during most of his life, it wasn’t until he was 70 years old that he made his most significant contribution to the form of Japanese art and printmaking. “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji,” including the image “Great Wave Off Kanagawa” in 1830, has since become legendary. The introduction of the color Prussian blue to the market served as another impetus for creating the famous collection of pictures. As a synthetic pigment, it was able to bring the hue price down to a point where it was viable to utilize it in prints for the first time. The image produces a dramatic and suspenseful beauty, in which many people find significant significance and symbolism, ranging from business to life, riches, and wisdom, among other things and cemented his fame as one of the greatest artists in the world and throughout the history of Japan.

Katsushika Hokusai is one of the most well-known Japanese painters of all time. Many collectors may be familiar with the names of Ando Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi, Kunisada, Utamaro, and Sharaku; however, there is no one particular image associated with any of these ukiyo-e and printmaker artists that transcend interest, age, or geography more than the image of Hokusai’s famous painting.

His work is linked with the subjects of Japanese art and Japanese woodblock prints, despite the fact that his name is unfamiliar to many people. While many people are unfamiliar with his name, they are undoubtedly familiar with his timeless images and interpretations of Japanese society and geography during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The artist is well-known for his depictions of historical sites, including Mount Fuji, as well as the often violent natural forces of the ocean that surrounds Japan.

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa was immortalized by one of his most famous paintings, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, which is one of his most recognized masterpieces. Throughout the world, he helped to establish tales about the people and topography of the nation.

Hokusai continued to be a popular artist for the majority of his life, even branching out into board game graphics, lantern paintings, and dioramas. His most renowned work, the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, didn’t begin until he was 70 years old, and it was then that he achieved international fame. In order to meet his financial obligations following a string of financial failures.

Overall, it is believed that Hokusai created over thirty thousand pieces throughout his lifetime, which is a significant amount of work when compared to the output of other famous painters of his time and place.

What Was Hokusai's Childhood Like?

The artist life was not initially intended for him; he was originally intended for a career as a mirror polisher for members of the high social strata.

In his early years, Hokusai was taken in by an uncle who held the coveted post of mirror polisher in the household of the shogun, who was the commander-in-chief of medieval Japan. Based on traditional Japanese culture, in the family, it was expected that the Hokusai’s future career path would be to take over the family craft and obtain an education in preparation for his family profession comparable to that of an artist.

Hokusai displayed an early creative ability that would lead him down a very different path. The artist began to distance himself from his uncle’s trade when he began working as a clerk at a lending library, then as a woodblock carver when he was 18 or 19 years old, when he entered the workshop of ukiyo-e artist Katsukawa Shunsho, marking the beginning of a new, lifelong career path for himself.

What Did Hokusai Use To Paint With?

The methods of ukiyo-e, or Japanese wood block prints, were used to create some of Hokusai’s most well-known masterpieces. Ukiyo-e prints are made by cutting a relief image into a woodblock, coating the surface of the block with ink or paint, and then pressing the block against a sheet of paper to make a print on paper.

What Is Hokusai Style Of Art?

Hokusai’s art was made in the conventional manner of the Ukiyo-e tradition. The Japanese art form of Ukiyo-e thrived from the 17th through the 19th century and is known as Ukiyo-e. Its artists created woodblock prints and paintings depicting a variety of Japanese topics, including feminine beauty, kabuki performers, and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk stories; travel sceneries and landscapes; flora and wildlife; and eroticism, among other things. 

The Japanese name ‘ukiyo-e’ literally translates as “pictures of the floating universe”, or “images of the floating world.” Ukiyo-e prints and paintings were popular among the merchant class, who had amassed enough riches to afford to use them as decorative items in their residences. Hishikawa Moronobu’s paintings and monochrome prints of beautiful ladies were among the first ukiyo-e works to appear in the 1670s, marking the beginning of the art form.

What Was Katsushika Hokusai Famous For?

Katsushika Hokusai is best known for his print series The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which depicts a giant wave crashing over Mount Fuji. Hokusai created this work as part of his series 36 Views of Mount Fuji, in which he sought to capture the mountain from a variety of different perspectives.  While The Great Wave is by far the most famous of these prints, the entire series is highly respected by art critics and historians. Hokusai’s mastery of composition and use of color helped to redefine what was possible in the medium of woodblock printing.

wave of hokusai

One of the most iconic images in Japanese art is the Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai. The print depicts a large wave about to crash down on three small boats, with Mt. Fuji looming in the background. While the image is often associated with traditional Japanese culture, it actually has a surprisingly modern origin. Hokusai was influenced by Western paintings that he had seen during visits to Europe, and he sought to capture the sense of motion and drama that he saw in these works. The result was a striking image that has been beloved by audiences for generations. Today, the Great Wave off Kanagawa continues to be an important part of Japanese art and culture, and its enduring popularity is a testament to Hokusai’s skill as an artist

What does The Great Wave painting symbolize?

While the theme initially appears to reflect nature’s power and the fragility of human life, the image suggests a more profound meaning—that of the Edo period’s political environment. A period of isolation that has weakened its position among industrialized Western nations, as well as Japan’s fear of foreign invasion.

How Much Is A Hokusai Worth?

Many of Katsushika Hokusai’s works have been offered for sale at art galleries and at auction, with realized values ranging from $50 to $1,590,000 USD, depending on the age and edition of the print series.

First editions of Hokusai’s woodblock prints are worth more than subsequent versions since they were printed in limited quantities. Because his renowned works are so widely recognized across the art world, Hokusai’s woodblock prints often set world records for their respective mediums. There are just a few examples of his original sketches and paintings that are not housed in a museum, and even then, his instances of rare woodblock prints typically fetch a greater price than his original works.

Great Wave Japanese woodblock block by Hokusai – late 19th century

How many original prints of The Great Wave are there?

The first 1000 copies of the print were made in 1830, according to estimates. With additional print runs, that figure increased to 8000.

How Much Does The Great Wave Print Cost?

The price of the woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa varies tremendously depending on where you buy it. It is estimated that the global record for one of the most valuable and valuable early instances of print is worth almost $1.6 million. You may get a magnificent antique 19th-century edition of his print for a few thousand dollars or a later 20th-century copy for as little as $25-$100, just like other examples of his work. In general, the newer the edition, the less valuable it is.

More Reading and Information

Author and institution The British Museum has an excellent series of articles on Hokusai and the Great Wave print. They are also a world-renowned repository for many historical works of art and artifacts. 

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