Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence at MFA Boston
May 18, 2023
I recently ran through the new exhibit, Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) here in Boston. I was with my three-year-old and he was mostly interested in the display of LEGOs.
If you don't know Hokusai's name, you probably still know his artwork. Few works of art have achieved the same level of recognition and cultural significance as "The Great Wave off Kanagawa."
This iconic woodblock print, part of his renowned series "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji," has captured the hearts and imaginations of viewers for centuries. It's also in the public domain, so you can find it printed on shower curtains and t-shirts and restaurant menus and leggings and notebooks and lots of other things.
Created in the early 1830s, during the Edo period, Hokusai's "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" depicts a towering wave crashing near the coast of Kanagawa, with Mount Fuji majestically rising in the background. The print embodies the essence of the ukiyo-e genre, which translates to "pictures of the floating world." It encapsulates the beauty, power, and transience of nature, while also reflecting Japan's deep connection to the sea.
The composition of "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" is masterfully crafted. Hokusai uses perspective to emphasize the colossal size and strength of the wave, as it threatens to engulf the fragile boats and their occupants. The mountainous wave dominates the foreground, while the smaller boats and Mount Fuji provide a sense of scale and depth.
Symbolically, the print explores themes of human vulnerability, the relentless power of nature, and the perpetual cycle of life and death. The wave serves as a metaphor for the unpredictable challenges that humans face, reminding viewers of their insignificance in the face of the overwhelming forces of nature. Yet, Hokusai's treatment of the wave also imbues it with a certain elegance, capturing the harmony between beauty and danger.
"The Great Wave off Kanagawa" has had a profound and lasting impact on art and culture worldwide. Its distinctive composition, with its contrasting colors, intricate details, and bold lines, has become synonymous with Hokusai's artistic style. Hokusai's influence can be seen in various forms, from later Japanese prints to Western art movements such as Impressionism and Art Nouveau. And that is exactly what the MFA's exhibit is all about: what influenced Katsushika Hokusai? And what influence did he have on other artists?
Like I said, I ran through the exhibit with my three-year-old...
...so there aren't a lot of photos, but my Mom managed to distract him long enough for me to take a few snaps:
I'm hoping to go back and see the exhibit again by myself. I'd like to take the time to read all the exhibit signs and really look at the work. For example, look how much great information is in this sign that was next to the woodblock above:
If you're going to be in Boston between now and July 16 (when the exhibit closes), I think it's worth visiting the MFA to check this exhibit out.
Thanks for stopping by!