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The Great Wave by Hokusai

Hokusai Katsushika was a painter during Edo Period (1615 -1868) in Japan and he was also best known for his woodblock prints. The Great Wave or The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Japan’s most iconic work of art in 19th century, (created as woodblock prints -25.7cm x 37.8cm), has become the most famous of his series of prints titled “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji “ and one of the best recognized works of Japanese art in the world.

The Great Wave depicts that three fast-fishing-boats have been caught in a rogue wave off the coast of Kanagawa prefecture. One wave roils in the foreground, while to the right of the scene the sea continues to rise. Everything, however, even Mt. Fuji, Japan’s grandest mountain, in the background is threatened by the monstrous wave that breaks from left to right and gives the image its title.

Hokusai studied European works in addition to Japanese ones and was particularly inspired by the linear perspective used in Dutch art. European influence is also apparent in his use of imported Prussian blue. Japan was closed to the world in those years, but some of these prints managed to get off Japan to the larger world.

The breathtaking composition of this woodblock prints began to circulate widely through Europe and became a source of inspiration for a variety of artists including Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, inspired French composer Claude Debussy’s orchestral composition “The Sea (La Mer)”, and appears in poetry and prose by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Because it is a woodblock print, there are lots of Great Waves to go around, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the British Museum of London, the Art institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, and Claude Monet’s house in Giverny, France, among many other collections.