I went to the MFA in Boston on the Sunday before the Boston Marathon, which meant that the museum was quite a bit busier than it usually is on a Sunday morning. The crowds didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying the new exhibit on Hokusai.
Most everyone recognizes at least one Hokusai block print, The Great Wave, as it has come to be known, but his body of work goes so far beyond that iconic image.
He lived in Japan from 1760-1849 and became famous later in his life, but the exhibit also includes some of his earlier works.
but after the success of that series, he created a waterfall series and a bridge series as well.
He also did a number of private commissions, which meant that the strict Japanese sensors didn’t have to approve these works before they were published.
Hokusai also created prints for a variety of other purposes besides prints to hang on walls. On display were prints for fans, a board game, and a little scene, meant to be cut out and assembled in 3D.
The last room had a great section explaining the process of making the prints, complete with replica tools and blocks. I found this part fascinating- the level of detail and control is seriously impressive. Until this part of the exhibit, I also (perhaps foolishly) didn’t realize that each color would require its own wooden print. That means for a print like The Great Wave, there were 8 different blocks used! Of course once created they can print many times, but that’s still a lot of time spent carving.
The exhibit was very impressive, and is supposed to be the most comprehensive one of his work so far. I must admit that by the end of it I couldn’t take any more Japanese block prints, but that was due to the sheer number of pieces displayed. I really enjoyed the exhibit, and recommend checking it out if you can get to Boston.