The 'Great Wave' forms the centrepiece of this exhibition of works by the 19th century master, drawing on the collection of the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum and the NGV
Having farewelled their winter masterpieces exhibition Van Gogh and the Seasons, the National Gallery of Victoria turn to one of the Dutch master’s key influences: 19th century Japanese painter and woodblock artist Katsushika Hokusai.
Curated by NGV’s Wayne Crothers in collaboration with the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Hokusai is one of the most comprehensive presentations of Hokusai's work ever staged outside of Japan, and includes more than 170 works by the artist – from woodblock prints to paintings on silk, and the entire hand-printed series of The Hokusai Manga (hugely influential on contemporary manga).
At the centre of the exhibition is ‘The great wave off Kanagawa’, one of the most reproduced images in the history of art, and the work by which Hokusai is best known. The NGV acquired their copy of the print in 1909, and it remains one of the most popular works in their collection. As Crothers explains, it’s a lot to do with the composition, “with the wave curling up from one side and the sky closing in from the other side, to create a yin and yang symbol, which represents heaven and earth – with humans in between, and a diminutive Mount Fuji on the horizon.”
In Hokusai, audiences will be able to see the ‘Great Wave’ in the context of its original series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, alongside four other complete series – all, remarkably, created in the artist’s seventies. In fact, the self-described Gakyō Rōjin (or ‘Old Man Crazy to Paint’) was fiercely ambitious, and believed he would be painting well beyond the age of 100, getting better with every passing year. In a postscript to volume one of his 1834 book One Hundred Views of Mt Fuji, he wrote that although he had been drawing since he was six years old, “until the age of seventy, nothing I drew was worthy of notice.”
Hokusai bears out that ambition, showing one of the world’s best artists at his peak, and providing insight into a key legacy for contemporary art and design.
See what else is on, in our round-up of the best art to see this month.