The Great Wave off Kanagawa was the first design for the series of 36 Famous Views of Mount Fuji, Japan's sacred mountain. Created by Hokusai around 1830, the series was published by Nishimuraya Yohachi in around 1832.
In this dramatic scene, a huge wave looms over three pitiful boats filled with cowering fishermen. The clawed wave dwarfs Mount Fuji as it presides solemnly in the distance.
At first glance, one thinks that these fishermen are surely doomed to perish. The wave is about to strike the boats as an enormous monster, one which seems to symbolise the irresistible force of nature and the weakness of human beings.
But they may not be ill-fated. Rather than appear panicked, they hang to their oars in a disciplined brace.
These swift, streamlined boats were used to transport fresh fish from nearby fishing villages to the markets of Edo (today Tokyo). Edo at that time was the second largest city in the world, with a voracious need for fresh food for its 1 million inhabitants.
The beautiful dark blue pigment used by Hokusai, called Prussian Blue, was a new material at the time, imported from England through China.
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