Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) was the first Japanese artist to be internationally recognized, and he continues to inspire artists around the world. As the home of the largest and finest collection of Japanese art outside Japan—including the greatest variety of Hokusai works in any museum—the MFA is uniquely positioned to offer a comprehensive exhibition of this remarkable artist. Drawing from extensive holdings of paintings, woodblock prints, and illustrated printed books, the Museum will showcase an array of works from Hokusai’s seven-decade career, including lesser-known pieces depicting whimsical instructions on how to draw, dynamic paintings on paper lanterns, and elaborate cut-out dioramas. Also displayed are some of the most famous images in Japanese art, including Under the Wave Off Kanagawa (Great Wave) (about 1830–31)—from the legendary series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji—and the brilliantly colored multi-panel screen painting Phoenix (1835). Spanning Hokusai’s work from his 20s through his 80s, the exhibition will explore common themes through sections dedicated to topics such as landscapes, nature, fantasy, and the “Floating World” of urban culture (including depictions of the Kabuki theater and the Yoshiwara pleasure district). Works that depict Japanese historical and literary motifs will be featured along with “perspective prints” with exaggerated vanishing points, often used in toy peep shows. An extremely delicate silk square of a mythological Chinese lion, likely used as a gift wrapper (fukusa), will also be included, in a rare public display of the fragile work. An illustrated publication will accompany the exhibition.
Above: Katsushika Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kanagawa also known as the Great Wave, from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji , Japanese, Edo period, about 1830–31. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection.