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Under the wave off Kanagawa
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Group: Forces of Nature

Artist: Katsushika HOKUSAI
Birth/Death: 1760–1849

Title: Under the wave off Kanagawa
Date Made: c.1830-5

Lender: Trustees of The British Museum, London

In this well-known work Hokusai depicts man’s vulnerability when faced with the power of nature. The scene shows three cargo boats whose fearful oarsmen huddle together, turning away in horror from the huge wave about to engulf them. To emphasise his vision, Hokusai has the viewer looking up into the menacing hollow of the giant wave – a view that the oarsmen are too terrified to face.

In contrast to the fury of the ocean, Mt Fuji stands motionless and serene in the distance. Even though dwarfed by the wave that frames it, the snow-capped mountain remains a focal point of the work.

In the Japanese tradition, brushwork was considered the essence of painting and calligraphy. The more accomplished the brushstrokes the greater the work. One of the most striking aspects of the ‘Great Wave’, is Hokusai’s use of line to create both movement and space. The apparent spontaneity of his brushwork is a contributing factor. In the creation of this print, the block cutter has faithfully reproduced this sense of spontaneous brushwork.

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