Katsushika HokusaiSergio Dioguardi
Katsushita Hokusai, a world-renowned Japanese painter and printmaker, was born in 1760 in the Edo district of Japan. Although he was the son of a prominent glass craftsman who made mirrors for the Shogun, he was never regarded by his father as an artistic heir, as he is thought to have been the son of a concubine. He began painting at the age of six, probably learning the painting techniques from his father, who applied his art to both the mirrors and the decorations around them.
Throughout his life, Hokusai was known by at least 30 different pseudonyms, as was the case with the leading artists of the time. Nonetheless, he had a number of pseudonyms clearly superior to other leading Japanese artists. His name changed as frequently as the style of his artistic production frequently changed. For this reason, pseudonyms are used to divide his production into different periods.
Hokusai had a very long career, but he produced his most important works after the age of sixty.
His best known work is certainly the series of art prints on paper called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which includes the famous Great Wave of Kanagawa. The print depicts a huge wave that threatens some boats off the coast of an area corresponding to today’s prefecture of Kanagawa; as in all other representations in this series, Mount Fuji appears in the background.
Although this work is considered an icon of Japanese art, it contains both traditional elements of oriental painting and characteristics unmistakably attributable to Western art. It had an immediate success both in Japan and in Europe, so much so that it influenced the art of the old continent in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the phenomenon called “Japonism”. In the twentieth century, the popularity of this image was such that it became part of mass culture, often being copied and parodied.