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Hokusai's Iconic "Great Wave"

John Carpenter, Curator, Department of Asian Art

Posted: Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), also known as the Great Wave, from the series Thirty six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei)

Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849). "Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura)," also known as "the Great Wave," from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei), ca. 1830–32. Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper; 10 1/8 x 14 15/16 in. (25.7 x 37.9 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847)

«The world-renowned landscape print "Under the Wave off Kanagawa"—also known as "the Great Wave"—is now on view in Gallery 231, complementing paintings by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and his pupils that are currently on display as part of the exhibition The Flowering of Edo Period Painting: Japanese Masterworks from the Feinberg Collection.»

Hokusai's career spanned over seven decades. Not only did he achieve fame for his dynamic designs for woodblock prints and illustrated books, but he was a skilled painter as well. Known for his ingenuity in creating striking designs through the clever use of perspective, Hokusai here shows Japan's tallest peak, Mount Fuji, as a small triangle in the distance, seen beneath a cresting wave—a symbol of nature's power.

The sophisticated use of various hues of blue is a distinctive feature of several prints from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series, to which "the Great Wave" belongs. At the time this print was produced, there was a demand for Berlin blue—popularly known as "Prussian blue"—imported from Europe. Scientific analysis has since revealed that both Prussian blue and traditional indigo were used in "the Great Wave" to create subtle gradations in the coloring of this dramatic composition.

To prevent fading, we will rotate different impressions of "the Great Wave" from the Met's collection throughout the summer.

"Storm below Mount Fuji (Sanka no haku u)," from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei)

Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849). "Storm below Mount Fuji (Sanka no haku u)," from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei), ca. 1830–32. Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper; 9 3/4 x 14 3/4 in. (24.8 x 37.5 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Howard Mansfield Collection, Purchase, Rogers Fund, 1936 (JP2567)

Department(s): Asian Art

Comments

  • Brock says:

    What does it mean by rotating "different impressions of the Great Wave from the Met's collection?" Does this mean that the Great Wave painting will come in and out of display? Is it set to be on display for certain period of time? Thank you.

    Posted: July 10, 2014, 10:05 p.m.

  • John Carpenter says:

    Thank you for your query. Because we want to avoid overexposing prints to light for prolonged periods -- since they will start to fade if shown for too long -- we limit the amount of time we put prints out on display. We want to keep an impression of Hokusai's "Great Wave" on view through the first week of September 2014 -- through the duration of the Edo painting exhibition. So that means we will put another impression from the collection out in six weeks or so. The Metropolitan Museum has four different impressions of this print -- all of them early, fine impressions in good condition.

    Please encourage your friends to visit the exhibition and view the prints, including the Hokusai images, and woodblock-printed books by ukiyo-e artists we have on view during this rotation. From September 27th, we will open a completely new rotation focussing on kimono, and the prints and illustrated books on view will be switched completely.

    Hope you enjoy the Japanese galleries,

    John Carpenter
    Curator of Japanese Art
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Posted: July 11, 2014, 1:38 p.m.

  • Brock says:

    Thanks John! Just booked a day trip from St. Louis to come see it on the 26th!

    Posted: July 13, 2014, 9:27 p.m.

  • Elena says:

    "To prevent fading, we will rotate different impressions". How does it fade? Is the fading problem connected to the blue color? Thank you!

    Posted: September 3, 2014, 5:39 a.m.

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About the Author

John Carpenter is a curator in the Department of Asian Art.

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