Peonies and Butterfly (1830-31)

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About Art

In this miniature drama, a strong breeze buffets a bunch of pink and red peonies, causing a startled butterfly to take flight and struggle into the wind.

This woodblock print is from the series "The Large Flowers". The collection was produced around Hokusai's creative peak (1832), just two years after the Great Wave and in the same period in which he produced more designs for the landmark series: 36 Views of Mount Fuji and A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces.

The Large Flowers are remarkable in their detail and realism, and use of abstract monochrome backgrounds, akin to Western still-life. That said, in Hokusai's prints we can see some dynamic movement. Plants sway in the wind and insects fly to and from the flowers.

The series doesn't appear to have been popular at the time, perhaps because of it's unusual style. Copies are rare, and there is little evidence that the series was reprinted after its initial publication. (Popular series were often re-released to the public in larger and larger print runs, which can be seen by variations in the exact print details and seals).

Since then, Hokusai has been vindicated, and these beautiful close-up views of natural life are held up as yet another artistic highlight from his oeuvre.