1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hokusai

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HOKUSAI (1760–1849), the greatest of all the Japanese painters of the Popular School (Ukiyo-ye), was born at Yedo (Tōkyō) in the 9th month of the 10th year of the period Horeki, i.e. October-November 1760. He came of an artisan family, his father having been a mirror-maker, Nakajima Issai. After some practice as a wood-engraver he, at the age of eighteen, entered the studio of Katsugawa Shunshō, a painter and designer of colour-prints of considerable importance. His disregard for the artistic principles of his master caused his expulsion in 1785; and thereafter—although from time to time Hokusai studied various styles, including especially that of Shiba Gokan, from whom he gained some fragmentary knowledge of European methods—he kept his personal independence. For a time he lived in extreme poverty, and, although he must have gained sums for his work which might have secured him comfort, he remained poor, and to the end of his life proudly described himself as a peasant. He illustrated large numbers of books, of which the world-famous Mangwa, a pictorial encyclopaedia of Japanese life, appeared in fifteen volumes from 1812 to 1875. Of his colour-prints the “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” (the whole set consisting of forty-six prints) were made between 1823 and 1829; “Views of Famous Bridges” (11), “Waterfalls” (8), and “Views of the Lu-chu Islands” (8), are the best known of those issued in series; but Hokusai also designed some superb broadsheets published separately, and his surimono (small prints made for special occasions and ceremonies) are unequalled for delicacy and beauty. The “Hundred Views of Mount Fuji” (1834–1835), 3 vols., in monochrome, are of extraordinary originality and variety. As a painter and draughtsman Hokusai is not held by Japanese critics to be of the first rank, but this verdict has never been accepted by Europeans, who place him among the greatest artists of the world. He possessed great powers of observation and characterization, a singular technical skill, an unfailing gift of good humour, and untiring industry. He was an eager student to the end of his long life, and on his death-bed said, “If Heaven had lent me but five years more, I should have become a great painter.” He died on the 10th of May 1849.

See E. de Goncourt, Hokousaï (1896); M. Revon, Étude sur Hokusaï (1896); E. F. Fenollosa, Catalogue of the Exhibition of Paintings by Hokusai at Tōkyō; (1901); E. F. Strange, Hokusai (1906). (E. F. S.)