Museum  September 9, 2020  Chandra Noyes

Lost Hokusai Drawings find home at British Museum

Created: Wed, 09/09/2020 - 13:13
Author: chandra

Perhaps the greatest Japanese artist of all time, Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760–1849) The Great Wave is instantly recognizable around the globe. His woodblock prints inspired Post-Impressionists like Vincent van Gogh and are still some of the most influential works to printmakers today. Over the course of his lifetime, Hokusai was immensely productive, creating over 1,000 paintings, 3,000 color prints, illustrations for over 200 books, and hundreds of drawings. For many years, scholars have pondered over a period of relatively unproductive years for the artist. Having suffered through personal tragedy, it was thought that Hokusai retreated from his work for a time, before reemerging with his famous Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji (c. 1831–1833) series.

Now the British Museum has proof that the artist never slowed his pace, having recently added 103 previously unknown drawings to their Hokusai collection, which includes a version of The Great Wave. Created in 1829, the drawings were part of an ambitious project called the Great Picture Book of Everything, which went uncompleted. It is unclear why the drawings were not published in the artist’s lifetime and the works remained hidden away in a private collection until last year, when they were rediscovered.

The drawings for the book are wide-ranging in subject matter, but all convey Hokusai’s mastery of the line and delicate sensibilities in portraying the world around him. Here is a sampling of the drawings, to be part of a future exhibition at the British Museum.

1 of 8
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Hokusai print of two cats with hibiscus flowers
Cats and hibiscus

The drawings in the collection include mundane scenes like this standoff between two cats with hibiscus (fuyō) flowers behind them. Though this moment is small, Hokusai has still managed to fill the image with action and energy.

2 of 8
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Hokusai print of laborers
Yi Di (Giteki) orders the people to use rice juice to brew wine

The artist also covers important moments from Japanese history, like the invention of rice wine, as workers here struggle to squeeze liquor from rice using a large rock.

3 of 8
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Virudhaka (Ruriō) killed by lightening
Virudhaka (Ruriō) killed by lightening

Religious history was also to be covered in the text, including the explosive death of the king Virudhaka by lighting strike, as foretold by the Buddha.

4 of 8
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Hokusai print of India, China, Korea as three men
India, China, Korea

Hokusai documented the people and cultures of Asia in six different works that are divided into three vertical columns. Here he depicts a typical inhabitant of India (right), China (center), and Korea (left).

5 of 8
© The Trustees of the British Museum
India, river of quicksand. The wind forms waves in the sand
India, river of quicksand. The wind forms waves in the sand

The artist's skill at capturing dramatic moments is exemplified in this drawing, where figures run from the chaos of a sandstorm.

6 of 8
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Hokusai pring Fumei Chōja and the nine-tailed spirit fox
Fumei Chōja and the nine-tailed spirit fox

A common character in kabuki and bunraku plays, Fumei Chōja is a shape-shifting nine-tailed fox whose adventures across Asia were a popular subject matter in Hokusai's lifetime.

7 of 8
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Hokusai print of seven water birds
Water birds

Here Hokusai offers a guide to various water birds, shown peacefully swimming amongst the reeds. He has charmingly depicted and labeled the little grebe, duck, seagull, mandarin duck, swan, and mallard duck.

8 of 8
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Hokusai print of Devadatta (Daibadatta), appearance of evil spirits with supernatural arts
Devadatta (Daibadatta), appearance of evil spirits with supernatural arts

Monk Devadatta, a relative of and foil to the Buddha, is shown in all his evil glory, overseeing a legion of malevolent spirits.