When Hokusai publishedThe Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fujihe was in his seventies and already had a successful and prolific career as an artist. Known for his ukiyo-e prints of actors, book illustrations and historical subjects, here he turned to one of the most iconic and auspicious subjects: the looming, cone-shaped Mt. Fuji. An important symbol for the Japanese dating back centuries, the series was instantly popular and became an iconic symbol of Japanese culture and heritage. Today its prints are highly desired by collectors; Rising Sun Prints is pleased to present a selection of these works for sale.
The highest mountain in Japan, Mt. Fuji appears in each print in the series. Located 100 miles southwest of Tokyo, it is shaped like a single cone rising from the land and capped with snow. It last erupted in 1707-8 and scattered ash on the city of Edo (now Tokyo). One of the three sacred mountains of Japan, it has been considered a spiritual place for centuries -- it has been viewed as a home for Buddhist and Shinto deities, the entrance to paradise or hell, and ancient samurai used the base of the mountain as a training space. It was also a pilgrimage site, and when Hokusai was alive and working on his series of prints many people were climbing it as a sign of devotion.
The mountain has also been a source of great inspiration for artists. The oldest known depiction is from 1066, which illustrated the legendary Japanese prince Shotoku climbing the mountain. However, since the 11th century artist was not able to travel to see the mountain in person he rendered it as a snowless brown mound rather than illustrating its iconic cone shape. During the Edo Period (1603-1868) when travel became easier, the depictions of the mountain became more lifelike. It also became the subject of art itself, rather than just a background landscape. Hokusai’s series played an important role in this transition and in legitimizing landscape as an acceptable subject for artwork.
Hokusai started the series in 1830 when he was 70 years old. He had a long and prolific life, and before this he had a successful career studying with famed artist Katsukawa Shunso, and depicting kabuki actors (a popular subject at the time), book illustrations, historical subjects, and completing special commissions for clients called surimono, which were private printings for special occasions such as holidays.
Despite the title, there are a total of forty-six prints in the series, not thirty-six. It was published over a period of five years, and after the works became popular he added another ten prints to the series. What is extraordinary for a series of this size and with a single subject matter -- the mountain -- no scenes repeat themselves.
Hokusai depicted the mountain in detail close up and sometimes it is in the background. Sometimes it is the only thing in the composition and he focuses on how color and light hits the mountain, other times the importance is placed on the figures in the scene. While the first thirty-six prints in the series show the mountain from the Pacific side, in the remaining ten it is seen from what is referred to as “Ura--Fuji” or behind.
However, the mountain is not the only thing depicted. Figures do appear in the prints, but they are always placed in relation to the looming mountain. Hokusai traveled around the mountain to see how people were interacting with it during their days. So throughout the series we see different types of figures going about their daily life. These were often common people not widely seen in depictions prior to this and depicted at different times of day.
Hodogaya on the Tokaido. Buy the print here >>
Since its publication the series has become one of the most iconic works of Japanese art. This did take some time, however, since during Hokusai’s life Japan’s borders were closed. This policy, called sakoku, forbade visitors from leaving or entering the country -- a crime that carried the penalty of death.
Hokusai died in 1849, and the 1850s saw a slow opening of the borders and black market ships that would carry products in and out of Japan, and in 1853 the country was officially open to trade.
One of the many effects of this new policy was that Western artists and collectors could discover the works of artists such as Hokusai. In 1867 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, a display of ukiyo-e prints became very popular with artists.
It is believed that Monet acquired 250 Japanese prints and 23 were by Hokusai. Western artists were enamored with the use of color in these works, and the impression they left gave a legitimacy to the craft of printmaking in Europe, which before this was seen as a lesser medium.
One area where these works were highly influential was the Art Nouveau movement. The shapes, flatness of line, and colors present in Hokusai’s prints are all seen in Art Nouveau works.
Rising Sun Print’s collection brings together the most striking images from the series for your home. The most well-known work isThe Great Wave off Kanawaga,which depicts a towering wave cresting on the ocean about to land on a group of fisherman rowing below. The snow capped mountain appears in the distance in the background.
Mount Fuji in Clear Weatherdepicts a close up shot of the mountain likely at dawn when it is said to take on a red hue. Viewing Mt. Fuji at this hour is said to be an auspicious event, and depictions of this moment were popular at the time it was made. It is an excellent example of the rich colors that make Hokusai’s prints so masterful.
Lastly, inWatermill at Ondenwe see an example of the quotidian depicted in this series. A group of men go about their daily work at the watermill by theShibuya River carrying sacks as water flows down the mill and into the river. Mt. Fuji appears in the distance, an ever present symbol of Japan’s spirituality and history.