Hokusai’s Landscapes, the Complete Series
by Sarah E. Thompson
published by MFA Publications (The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Hokusai was a master of block printing, and he and his collaborators produced prints that extensively influenced the art world both within Japan and throughout Europe. This gorgeously produced hardcover book reproduces his famous collections, including the views of Mt. Fuji, famous bridges, and scenic waterfalls, along with gorgeous details and text that provides context for the locations the images are based on and explanations of the work frequently being performed in the scenes.
There are works dedicated to stops along historic pilgrimage trails, references to mountain-worship, works created to illustrate or allude to famous poems, and lovely blow-ups of details.
YES, he did more than one version of his famous wave!
YES, he did more than one version of Mt. Fuji in red light!
YES, he had a hazy, impractical idea of how large logs were sawn! But he really liked drawing that, and so you have to give him points for enthusiasm. He liked showing people at work generally, not just wealthy people lounging around, but people farming, gathering clams, washing fabric, and other ordinary tasks of daily working life. Even when someone fancy is present, there is always someone behind them, carrying their stuff!
I have multiple layers of interest in Hokusai’s work. I make prints of multiple types; I use Prussian Blue for much of my work (Prussian Blue is the color of cyanotypes!) ; I create some work in a series with grandiose names (I’ve got a set of acrylic ink & paint works in development since 2015 called One Thousand Abstract Thoughts, and the name may partly be Hokusai’s fault); and I am trying to understand how to document or commemorate specific places, or at least have a better grasp of how this was done prior to documentary photography.
I hadn’t seen all of the works in this collection before, and am thrilled to have it. The waterfalls and bridges are worth it – I’d seen so few of these!
Seeing more of his work organized in this way, I also can better distinguish what I like about Hokusai from other famous Japanese printmakers. Hokusai’s work has often appeared in collections / shows with other artists, including Hiroshige, who is similarly excellent but has a different compositional approach. (Hiroshige has more works that focus on specific details up-close, rather than these broad landscape and town scenes….)
This is a lovely book for fans who want to spend more time staring deeply into these well-designed and beautifully executed prints.