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Aoigoaka Waterfall at Edo, from the series A Tour of Waterfalls in the Provinces (Shokoku taki-meguri)

Date: originally published 1833, the copy mid-20th century
Size: oban, approx 15.25" x 10.25" 
Condition: VG, minor flaws as shown
Impression: Fine, tight registration and solid key lines
Color: VG, slightly faded color and bleed through to verso

In 1833, as Hokusai completed the designs for his most famous work, the Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji, he approached the new topic of depicting water, in the legendary series known as A Tour of Waterfalls in the Provinces.

In the Shinto religion of Japan, nature gods and spirits (called kami) inhabit trees, rocks, mountains, and waterfalls. In his waterfall series, Hokusai portrayed each waterfall differently, emphasizing the unique features of each site. He was the first Japanese woodblock print artist to focus on water as a design, and here we see the genius of his visual imagination.

Although the Mt. Fuji series is better known, the Waterfalls series is considered Hokusai’s finest work in series form: each of the eight waterfall views is a masterpiece, and together they form an integrated whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Katsushika Hokusai is among the great masters of Japanese woodblock print and one of the great creative and innovative genius of all time. Hokusai's career began as the apprentice to an engraver at the age of fourteen. By eighteen he had entered the studio of Katsukawa Shunsho, an important artist of theatrical prints, and a year later he published his first prints, under the name Shunro. Hokusai produced good prints in the 1780s, under the influence of Shigemasa and Kiyonaga, but his first masterpieces were designed, under the name Kako in the 1790s. He first adopted the name Hokusai in 1797, at the start of the first of several important periods, this one dedicated to the production of surinomo and illustrated books.

Hokusai was drawn to diverse artistic influences, including Chinese art, and Western art, which was just beginning to be known and discussed by Japanese artists in the 1790s. These contrasting influences helped created Hokusai's distinct style that differed from the other ukiyo-e of his time. Among his masterworks from this period are the Famous Places of Edo, from 1800; the fifteen sketch books published beginning in 1814 under the title Hokusai Manga; and the series dedicated to Mount Fuji:The 36 Views of Mt. Fuji (actually with 46 plates) from the early 1830s; and the three volumes of One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, from 1834-35.

Hokusai is, in great measure, responsible for the establishment of landscape prints and birds and flower prints (kacho-e) as independent genres of ukiyo-e. His creative capacity was intimately linked with his restlessness, which distinguished him from most Japanese of his time, and is well illustrated by the number of names he used throughout his career (twenty-six), and by the number of addresses he had throughout his life (ninety-three). When Hokusai was seventy-five he wrote in the preface to One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, the following lines about his life: "From the age of 5 I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note. At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own. I only beg that others of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words."


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