While fair, serene skies reign in “Southern Wind, Clear Morning”, Hokusai, presenting an identical composition, now depicts a storm brewing around the base of Mt. Fuji in “Rainstorm Beneath the Summit”. Where a sense of calm and early morning promise once was, a darkened, shadowy scene has now settled in.
In terms of color, this piece, part of the famed ukiyo-e artist’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”, stands out amongst the rest of the collection. While most of Hokusai’s views of Japan’s famous mountain are filled with lush blue and green tones, “Rainstorm Beneath the Summit” is almost overtaken with an ominous, stormy bloom of darkness, with the usual tones of nature acting as more of a contrasting backdrop. The distant azure skies and cream-colored thunderclouds peek out from behind Mt. Fuji, dwarfed by its size and dominating placement in the foreground.
Harsh, jagged lines seem to split the painting in the bottom right portion, representing a crack of lightning as it strikes down from the heavens, echoing the shape of the mountain’s slopes. While the flash of light presents itself to the mountain as a threat, the snow-capped peak (dusted with more snow than in “Southern Wind, Clear Morning”) rises above it, unbothered.
Hokusai, in his 70’s at the time of creating “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”, was obsessed with the idea of immortality, both in his personal life and in capturing flashes of everyday life in his work. His subject in this series has long been seen as a symbol of everlasting life.
The legend goes that the mountain’s name is derived from the word fushi, or, “without death”. There is a tale that says that an emperor once fell in love with a princess from the moon, only for her to be taken back by her people, her memory of him lost forever. Longing for her, he tells his men to bring the elixir of immortality, along with a letter he’d written to her, atop the highest mountain, and burn them both, in the hopes that they would reach her. Once they were burned, his men claimed that the elixir never stopped burning. Thus, Mt. Fuji became volcanic.
In “Rainstorm Beneath the Summit”, Hokusai has created his own piece of immortality, forever capturing a ruptured moment in time, when, even against nature’s strongest menace, Mt. Fuji remained steadfast, rising above all.