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Katsushika Hokusai Artist Biography

Katsukawa Hokusai was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period. In his time, he was Japan's leading expert on Chinese painting and he is now one of the most famous names in oriental art and the epitome of the later Ukiyo-e ('floating world') school. Katsukawa Hokusai was born on the 23rd day of 9th month of the 10th year of the Hōreki period (October or November 1760) to an Artisan family, in the Katsushika district of Edo, Japan. His childhood name was Tokitarō. Katsukawa Hokusai was known by at least 30 names during his lifetime. Although the use of multiple names was a common practice of Japanese artists of the time, the numbers of names he used far exceeds that of any other major Japanese artist. Hokusai's name changes are so frequent, and so often related to changes in his artistic production and style, that they are useful for breaking his life up into periods.

Katsukawa Hokusai began painting around the age of six, possibly learning the art from his father, who produced mirrors for the shogun also included the painting of designs around the mirrors. At the age of 12, he was sent by his father to work in a bookshop where reading books made from wood-cut blocks was a popular entertainment of the middle and upper classes. At 14, he became an apprentice to a wood-carver, where he worked until the age of 18, whereupon he was accepted into the studio of Katsukawa Shunshōc - an artist of ukiyo-e, a style of wood block prints and paintings that Katsukawa Hokusai would master. After a year, Katsukawa Hokusai's name changed for the first time, when he was dubbed Shunrō by his master. It was under this name that he published his first prints, a series of pictures of Kabuki actors published in 1779. In 1793, Katsukawa Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. He was soon expelled from the Katsukawa school by Shunkō, the chief disciple of Shunshō. Katsukawa Hokusai also changed the subjects of his works, moving away from the images of courtesans and actors that were the traditional subjects of ukiyo-e. Instead, his work became focused on landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels.

The next period saw Katsukawa Hokusai's association with the Tawaraya School and the adoption of the name "Tawaraya Sōri." In 1798, Katsukawa Hokusai passed his name on to a pupil and set out as an independent artist, free from ties to a school for the first time, adopting the name Hokusai Tomisa. By 1800, Katsukawa Hokusai was further developing his use of ukiyo-e for purposes other than portraiture. He had also adopted the name he would most widely be known by, Katsushika Hokusai, the former name referring to the part of Edo where he was born and the latter meaning, 'north studio'. He became increasingly famous over the next decade, both due to his artwork and his talent for self-promotion. In 1820, Katsukawa Hokusai changed his name yet again, this time to "Iitsu," a change which marked the start of a period in which he secured fame as an artist throughout Japan (though, given Japan's isolation from the outside world during his lifetime, his fame overseas came after his death). It was during the 1820s that Katsukawa Hokusai reached the peak of his career. His most famous work, 36 Views of Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa, dated from this period.

Katsukawa Hokusai is best-known as author of the woodblock print series 'Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji' (c. 1831) which includes the iconic and internationally recognized print, 'The Great Wave of Kanagawa'. The Great Wave depicts an enormous wave threatening boats near the Japanese prefecture of Kanagawa; Mount Fuji can be seen in the background. The wave is probably not intended to be a tsunami, but a normal ocean wave created by the wind. Like the other prints in the series, it depicts the area around Mount Fuji under particular conditions. It was specifically this prints, that secured Hokusai's fame both within Japan and worldwide. The next period, beginning in 1834, saw Katsukawa Hokusai working under the name "Gakyō Rōjin Manji" (The Old Man Mad About Art). It was at this time that he produced One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, another significant landscape series.

In 1839, disaster struck as a fire destroyed Hokusai's studio and much of his work. By this time, his career was beginning to wane as younger artists such as Andō Hiroshige became increasingly popular. But Katsukawa Hokusai never stopped painting, and completed Ducks in a Stream at the age of 87. Constantly seeking to produce better work, he apparently exclaimed on his deathbed, "If only Heaven will give me just another ten years... Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter." He died on April 18, 1849, and was buried at the Seikyō-ji in Tokyo (Taito Ward).

Over the years Hokusai's work and in particular the image of the Great Wave has inspired artists all over the world. Copies of the print hang at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the British Museum in London, and in Claude Monet's house in Giver, France.

More art prints from Katsushika Hokusai

Mount Fuji Reflected in Lake Misaica By Katsushika Hokusai
Pheonix By Katsushika Hokusai
The Suspension Bridge Between Hida and Etchu By Katsushika Hokusai
Masculine Wave By Katsushika Hokusai
Fine Weather with South Wind By Katsushika Hokusai
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