Make waves with these breathtaking landscape paintings

Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn looks at the work of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai

By Henry Widdas, Communities Content Page Manager
Thursday, 17th February 2022, 4:49 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th February 2022, 4:50 pm
Hokusai art books start at around ten pounds
Hokusai art books start at around ten pounds

It’s ironic that admiring some truly inspiring physical feats has left me stuck to the sofa more than usual, watching the Olympics! As well as the impressive sporting achievements, my eye has been drawn to the breathtaking landscapes forming the backdrop to many events.

The inhabitants of China and Japan have long revered and sought to portray the landscape, making Oriental landscape painting one of the most mesmerizing and beautiful genres of art in the world. Imbued with meaning, these paintings have been prized down through many dynasties.

In Europe, the fashion for exotic items from the Far East started sweeping the continent starting from the 15th century, when Portuguese traders began to import Chinese porcelain and paintings.

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Chinese landscape painting arrived in Japan with Zen Buddhism, and gradually developed its own distinct style. One of its most famous and widely recognised exponents is the artist, woodcarver and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai, who lived from 1760 to 1849.

Known simply as Hokusai, he is best known for the woodblock print series ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ which includes the internationally iconic print ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ (nowadays usually shortened to ‘The Great Wave’).

Sadly, original Hokusai artworks are outside the realm of most normal budgets. Just last year, his 1831 woodblock print ‘Under the Well of the Great Wave off Kanagawa’, sold at auction for $1.6 million, 10 times its surprisingly low estimate of $150,000.

However, Hokusai Great Wave and Mount Fuji prints are being applied to more and more decorative items. So if you can’t afford an original painting, you can certainly buy a print, mouse mat, bag or mug, as well as many books containing sumptuous high-quality reproductions.

We have definitely seen an increase in Hokusai-related items in the centre (sadly no originals as yet!). Art books start at around £10, and collectable items like mugs from the British Museum, who held a Hokusai exhibition this winter, from £8. Carefully preserved postcards from their previous 1950s Hokusai exhibition, historic records in their own right, start from £4.

And keep your eyes open: treasures can turn up in the most unexpected places. The British Museum’s recent exhibition included a newly rediscovered book of 103 original Hokusai wave prints, which had been lost in Paris for over 70 years. Definitely a catch worth casting your net for!