“Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji" - The Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai

10 May 1849, the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai died at the age of 88 in Edo (present-day Tokyo)

“If only Heaven will give me just another ten years... Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter." (Katsushika Hokusai on his deathbed) 

Katsushika Hokusai: “Great Wave off Kanagawa”, around 1830

Japan’s Edo or Tokugawa period, lasting from 1603 to 1867, was a time of contrasts that usually do not go hand in hand naturally. Despite a strict social order and an isolationist foreign policy, economic growth, urbanisation and a popular enjoyment of the arts and culture flourished along with a significant artistic and intellectual development. And quite a few features considered as integral part of Japanese culture emerged during these days, from the establishment of professional female entertainers, geishas, music, popular stories, Kabuki and bunraku, the puppet theatre, to the production of Ukiyo-e prints. The latter ranged from woodcuts of scenes of daily life to various erotica, shunga, spring, often carried as tokens of good luck, especially by lonely men and women and sometimes served as sex ed material for juveniles and young adults of the better classes. The term “manga” was made popular in these days by the best-known Ukiyo-e master, Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai: "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife" (1814)

Hokusai had a bit of a checkered life, living in 90 different places and working under 30 different names, always striving to perfect his art, writing folksy novels, and creating most of his important works when he was already 60, most notably the “Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji”, actually 46 prints, originating between 1826 and 1833, among them the “Great Wave off Kanagawa” with the mountain in the background, that became highly influential especially for Western art, up to the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot showing nature’s fractal aspects based on Hokusai’s work. Along with a “rags to riches story”, sometimes, Hokusai was forced to sell his prints in the streets to make a living, his “thirty-six views” made him a broadly recognised artist, in Japan and worldwide.

 Katsushika Hokusai: "God of Thunder" (c 1840)

Ten years after his death, in the days when the Edo period ended under the threat of the guns of Commodore Perry’s kurofune, the black ships, the French artist Félix Bracquemond opened a shipment of Japanese porcelain, wrapped in prints from Hokusai’s sketchbook – and immediately fell in love with his accidental find. Distributing the prints among his artist friends, Bracquemond caused a downright obsession for all things Japanese, coining the term “Japonism” and influencing first the impressionists and later Art Nouveau and Cubism, along with artists from Tissot and Whistler to Beardsley, Mucha and Klimt to van Gogh.

The whole series “Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji” can be found here:


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