An exhibition featuring around 100 works, mostly woodblock prints, by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) has opened at the British Museum and runs till August 13 2017, entrance £12.
Hokusai believed that he produced his best work after he had turned 60 and Hokusai Beyond the Great Wave concentrates on the last 29 years of his life, starting with his best-known Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji series, a life-saving commission for him that included the iconic In The Hollow of a Wave Off The Coast of Kanagawa. This, when viewed the Oriental way from right to left put the viewer right under a huge towering blue wave topped with a crest of white foam “claws”, as an admiring Van Gogh described them, reaching out to tear at the boats caught in the wave’s trough below. As well as seascapes and Fuji, which had a religious significance for him, Hokusai also excelled in pictures of bridges, landscapes, waterfalls, fish, flowers and birds.
One Hokusai genre not showing at the exhibition, because it was produced while he was still in his fifties, is his shunga – Japanese erotic art, of which the British Museum has lots, and which was banned in Japan for more than a century One famous Hokusai picture shows a naked woman on a rocky shore, described as a pearl diver or a fisherman’s wife, being pleasured by two octopuses, a small one attending to her lips and breasts and a large one with tentacles around her waist and squatting wide-eyed between her open thighs, a scene that some may find deeply erotic while others could be put off their sushi.
A beautifully illustrated book with more than 130 of Hokusai’s artworks – Hokusai Prints and Drawings – is on sale in the museum shop for £14.99, and a small but interesting exhibition of Japanese woodcut production is presented free in Room 3, just by the entrance.