A fisher boy pauses, hangs up his bucket and climbs into a willow tree, to sit and gaze towards Mount Fuji. He looks towards the mountain, which towers before him and dominates the landscape utterly.
This is not a typical woodblock print, and was made with ink and color on silk.
These silk hangings would of course be made for wealthy patrons or aristocrats, in contrast to the standard ukiyo-e prints that Hokusai spent much of his working life designing, which were sold cheaply to the masses.
Hokusai was well connected with the Edo cultural elite and regularly received private commissions for exclusive books, paintings and prints.
This work is essential Hokusai, with three of his artistic trademarks writ large, namely:
Hokusai was vigourously productive, but of course he did have a few favourite subjects. He staked his place in artistic history with the series 36 Views of Mount Fuji, representing the mountain from seemingly every angle. However, he had and would create hundreds, possibly thousands more prints featuring the venerable mountain.
Hokusai also clearly enjoyed valour rising and dignified being the everyday lives and work of Artisans and peasant farmers who lived in the shadow of the mountain. Unlike many ukiyo-e prints which typically featured celebrity actors and beautiful geisha or courtesans, Hokusai featured the anonymous everyday folk that produced food and earned a living with their hands.
The same fisher boy seems to make an appearance in this print:
Hokusai is clearly a master of composition. We all know beauty when we see it, but what is it exactly that makes an image like this so beautiful?
One factor, a trademark of Hokusai in particular amongst Japanese artists, is the repeated use of visual symmetry throughout the composition. In Mount Fuji and Fisher Boy, Hokusai makes use of this technique in an especially elegant fashion. We’ve marked the various symmetries on the image below:
The overall effect is one of harmony and gentle flow.
The stillness of Fuji and the boy contrasts with the fast, cascading flow of the water between the two of them. Given Hokusai's Buddhist and animistic beliefs, the metaphorical implication here is clear.
The flowing river of life cascades downward rapidly, as the immovable and eternal mountain (the sacred, the infinite) stands watch resolutely. The boy, perhaps mirroring Hokusai himself, takes a moment to pause from his work, sit and reflect, looking beyond the busy rush of the river and towards the sacred Mount Fuji.
Look closely and you can see that the Fisher boy has raised the flute to his lips, as though serenading the mountain.