Older Versions Of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’ Depict Its Incredible Evolution Over Time

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Hokusai’s The Great Wave of Kanagawa is a staple of Japanese art.

Older Versions Of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’ Depict Its Incredible Evolution Over Time

Hokusai’s The Great Wave of Kanagawa is a staple of Japanese art. Made using traditional woodblock printing techniques, the work typifies the ukiyo-e practice. Given its prominence and popularity, you might think that The Great Wave we have all come to know and love is the only one of its kind. Katsushika Hokusai, however, depicted this subject matter many times throughout his life, culminating in a collection of four similarly themed canvases.


Hokusai started exploring this motif in 1797 when he was 33 years old. In Springtime in Enoshima, the water wasn't the only subject. He also emphasized a group of figures in the foreground. In an early work of Hokusai, the piece is characterized by delicate lines and an attention to minute detail.


Hokusai crafted his second precursor of The Great Wave in 1803. View of Honmoku off Kanagawa includes a muted color palette and two focal points: the wave (that had significantly increased in scale) and a passing ship. Though stylized, the wave is also simplified; minimalist contours and little embellishment suggest its form.


Two years later, Hokusai completed Fast Cargo Boat Battling The Waves. He retained some of the characteristics found in the previous piece, including the prominent presence of a boat and the simplified crest of the wave. From this design, however, he reorganized the composition, moving the wave from the left side of the scene to the right. That decision ultimately stuck, defining the composition of his last and most popular Great Wave.


It's no surprise that this later work has proven to be Hokusai’s most successful—especially in the context of the artist’s assessment of his art. “From the time I was six, I was in the habit of sketching things I saw around me,” Hokusai said. “Around the age of 50, I began to work in earnest, producing numerous designs. It was not until my 70th year, however, that I produced anything of significance.”


Older Versions Of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’ Depict Its Incredible Evolution Over Time

“Springtime in Enoshima,” 1797 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)


Older Versions Of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’ Depict Its Incredible Evolution Over Time

“View of Honmoku off Kanagawa,” 1803 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)


Older Versions Of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’ Depict Its Incredible Evolution Over Time

“Fast Cargo Boat Battling The Waves,” 1805 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)


Older Versions Of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’ Depict Its Incredible Evolution Over Time

“The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” ca. 1826-1833 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)


h/t: Open Culture

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Thinking Humanity: Older Versions Of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’ Depict Its Incredible Evolution Over Time
Older Versions Of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’ Depict Its Incredible Evolution Over Time
Hokusai’s The Great Wave of Kanagawa is a staple of Japanese art.
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