Hokusai Produces Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Hokusai’s woodblock print series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji is an amalgamation of the ukiyo-e style of artistry and of his own perspectives. Hokusai’s work, greatly influential in the world of Japanese printmaking, also inspired the development of Impressionist and other modern art styles of western Europe.

Summary of Event

Japanese print artist Katushika Hokusai’s 1823-1831 woodblock print series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei) was based on the artist’s own unique perspective of the popular nineteenth century ukiyo-e style of woodblock printing in Japan. This series of prints is regarded as one of the most influential in the history of art. Later Japanese and European artists, inspired by Hokusai’s style, merged traditional Japanese imagery with popular culture in a unique style especially for the common individual. Fuji, Mount Japan;Mount Fuji Hokusai Ukiyo-e woodblock printing[Ukiyoe woodblock printing] Japan;art Art;Japanese Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Hokusai) [kw]Hokusai Produces Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1823-1831) [kw]Produces Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Hokusai (1823-1831) [kw]Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Hokusai Produces (1823-1831) [kw]Views of Mount Fuji, Hokusai Produces Thirty-Six (1823-1831) [kw]Mount Fuji, Hokusai Produces Thirty-Six Views of (1823-1831) [kw]Fuji, Hokusai Produces Thirty-Six Views of Mount (1823-1831) Fuji, Mount Japan;Mount Fuji Hokusai Ukiyo-e woodblock printing[Ukiyoe woodblock printing] Japan;art Art;Japanese Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Hokusai) [g]Japan;1823-1831: Hokusai Produces Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji[1210] [c]Art;1823-1831: Hokusai Produces Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji[1210] Tokugawa Ieyasu Hiroshige Suzuki Harunobu Bracquemond, Félix

The capital Tokyo;art in city of Edo (now Tokyo) was under the power of the Tokugawa shogunate (1615-1868). Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu Tokugawa Ieyasu was a fan of fairs and lively entertainment such as kabuki theater Theater;Japanese and of activities that included erotic and risqué displays from the pleasure quarters of the Yoshiwara, or Floating World, district. The Tokugawa period marked the beginning of a peaceful era after nearly four hundred years of civil unrest in Japan. The renewed interest in cultural activities in lieu of militarism led to a rising middle class that produced and sold everyday goods and wares.

Detailed views of city life were popularized under the term ukiyo-e, or images of the floating world, at the beginning of the Tokugawa period. Ukiyo-e embodies the Japanese ideal that life is fleeting, or impermanent, and that the elements of everyday life are ephemeral and transitory; life, therefore, should be pleasurable. As the primary artistic medium of ukiyo-e, woodblock prints met the artistic desires of a large urban capital such as Edo while remaining cost-effective. Woodblock prints were inexpensively produced and reproduced for about the cost of a laborer’s meal, and they offered a means for individualism in a heavily populated region. Advancements in woodblock design allowed for beautifully polychromatic prints called nishiki-e (brocade pictures), a process invented by Suzuki Harunobu Suzuki Harunobu in 1765.

The rise of the merchant class led to the popularization of a genre of art that embraced everyday activities through boldly colored depictions of actors, scenes of daily life, tea houses, legendary characters, courtesans, and the surrounding landscape so treasured by the Japanese. Censorship Censorship;Japanese of subject matter deemed inappropriate by government authorities was enforced starting around 1801. As a result, the subject of woodblock prints metamorphosed into a hybrid of traditional Japanese imagery of historical figures with the energy of the urban city in the form of panoramic cityscapes and landscapes. This omniscient artistic viewpoint developed out of a long tradition of landscape imagery seen in Japanese painting. Traveling opportunities outside the country, previously prohibited, were reinstated after 1820, which heightened popular interest in scenery and in souvenirs of favorite locales.

Hokusai was familiar with bustling big cities and was known as a master of Japanese landscape imagery. His Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji was inspired by the beauty of the natural environment. The forty-six prints (thirty-six original views and ten added later) captured the steadfast nature of Mount Fuji as it faced all types of weather and seasonal conditions. All but one of the forty-six images illustrate the interaction between humans and the immortal Mount Fuji.

The two most popular images from the series are The Great Wave off Kanagawa and South Wind, Clear Dawn (also known as Red Fuji), which display the effects of a great storm and the renewal of nature after a storm, respectively. Although the subjects are imbued in nature and its effects, each image has its own sense of order and balance, often despite an asymmetrical composition. The Great Wave was colored with Prussian blue, adding vibrancy to the image of a colossal wave about to capsize a boat of frightened seafarers; the viewer’s perspective is similar to one of the seafarers, as if Hokusai intended to place his viewer desperately out at sea at the mercy of nature. Hokusai originally outlined all of the prints with Prussian blue ink because of the pigment’s popularity in Europe at the time.

South Wind, Clear Dawn, on the other hand, was a unique production because it used a stark, angular outline of the mountain and three basic colors, named for the red glow of the mountain often seen in the morning light of summer months, hence the image’s other name, Red Fuji. South Wind, Clear Dawn was the only image of the series that did not include a human element, leaving a very powerful impression of nature. Despite its simple means, South Wind, Clear Dawn was incredibly popular; it was favored among the series and remains a significant image in the history of printmaking.

The focus on Mount Fuji, a clear cultural landmark, stemmed from Shinto Shintoism beliefs in a harmonious connection between humans and the nature spirits called kami. Mount Fuji was regarded as an immortal monument of nature that was constant despite the changing years, turning seasons and variances in atmosphere. Hokusai furthered this concept by blending an ancient spiritual belief of the immortal mountain with the modern cultural identity of Japan. Many of Hokusai’s patrons were Shinto believers who had been making their journey to Mount Fuji.

Hokusai completed Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji at the age of seventy-one. His focus on an image of immortality was not coincidental but rather an expression of his desire to continue on in his career for as long as possible. Hokusai’s younger contemporary, Hiroshige, Hiroshige also made a name for himself as a woodblock-print artist by following in Hokusai’s footsteps by developing the landscape genre. Hokusai’s influence is especially evident in Hiroshige’s multi-image series of local scenery in and around Edo, Meisho Edo Hyakkei (1856-1858; one hundred views of Edo).


Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji is perhaps the most widely recognized print series in history. Hokusai’s body of work is credited with influencing European artists such as the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists Post-Impressionism[PostImpressionism] Impressionism . The Impressionists, including Claude Monet Monet, Claude , painted objects as they appeared to the senses, using the effects of sunlight, especially, to convey with unmixed colors and dabbed brush strokes what the eye actually sees.

Hokusai’s works also introduced western Europeans to the value of Japanese prints. With the exception of the Dutch, the general Western audience had limited knowledge of Japanese artistic abilities until the nineteenth century. Half a world away, views of the Japanese countryside and reflections of an urban city in a tradition-oriented society managed to bring to Europeans, the French in particular, a sense of fascination and newfound affinity for Japanese works, called japonisme in French. French printmaker and designer Félix Bracquemond Bracquemond, Félix was one of the first to credit artists such as Hokusai for his interest in asymmetrical viewpoints. Bracquemond helped make Japanese prints popular in Europe, which in turn inspired the abstract elements of modern art history.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carpenter, John T., ed. Hokusai and His Age: Ukiyo-e Painting, Printmaking, and Book Illustration in Late Edo Japan. Amsterdam: Hotei, 2005. Examines a full range of Hokusai’s work as well as the world of Edo Japan during his lifetime. Illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dunn, Charles. Everyday Life in Traditional Japan. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1969. A survey of the lifestyles, events, and expectations of various classes of individuals in traditional Japanese culture.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Forrer, Matthi. Hokusai: Mountains and Water, Flowers and Birds. New York: Prestel, 2004. A brief look at Hokusai’s artistry. Illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Guth, Christine. Art of Edo Japan: The Artist and the City, 1615-1868. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996. Provides an excellent overview of the variety of artworks in Japan, including traditional art forms like painting and printing as well as cultural arts such as theater and tea ceremonies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nagata, Seiji. Hokusai: Genius of the Japanese Ukiyo-e. New York: Kodansha International, 1995. Examines Hokusai’s extensive history of artistic production, including the various periods within his own career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newland, Amy, ed. The Commercial and Cultural Climate of Japanese Printmaking. Hotei Academic European Studies on Japan 2. Amsterdam: Hotei, 2004. A scholarly study of the socioeconomic aspects of ukiyo-e printmaking. Provides a unique account of the social and economic conditions under which ukiyo-e artists created their works.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ray, Deborah Kogan. Hokusai: The Man Who Painted a Mountain. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. A 34-page book written especially for younger readers. Illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sansom, George. A History of Japan: 1615-1867. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1963. Examination of the political structure and social development of Japan under Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Whitford, Frank. Japanese Prints and Western Painters. New York: Macmillan, 1977. Discusses the influence of Japanese woodblock prints on European painting during the nineteenth century. Contains color plates.

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