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The Chinese Painting Expert...



Katsushika Hokusai (Unknown, October or November 1760 May 10, 1849) was a Japanese artist, ukiyo e painter and printmaker of the Edo period. In his time, he was Japan's leading expert on Chinese painting. Born in Edo (now Tokyo), Hokusai is best-known as author of the woodblock print series Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji (Unknown, Fugaku Sanjuroku-kei?, c. 1831) which includes the iconic and internationally recognized print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, created during the 1820s. Hokusai created the "Thirty Six Views" both as a response to a domestic travel boom and as part of a personal obsession with Mount Fuji. It was this series, specifically The Great Wave print and Fuji in Clear Weather, that secured Hokusai's fame both within Japan and overseas. As historian Richard Lane concludes, "Indeed, if there is one work that made Hokusai's name, both in Japan and abroad, it must be this monumental print series...". While Hokusai's work prior to this series is certainly important, it was not until this series that he gained broad recognition and left a lasting impact on the art world. It was also The Great Wave print that initially received, and continues to receive, acclaim and popularity in the Western world.

Early Life and Artistic Training



Hokusai was born on the 23rd day of 9th month of the 10th year of the Horeki period (October or November 1760) to an artisan family, in the Katsushika district of Edo, Japan. His childhood name was Tokitaro. It is believed his father was the mirror-maker Nakajima Ise, who produced mirrors for the shogun. His father never made Hokusai an heir, so it's possible that his mother was a concubine. Hokusai began painting around the age of six, possibly learning the art from his father, whose work on mirrors also included the painting of designs around the mirrors.

Hokusai was known by at least 30 names during his lifetime. Although the use of multiple names was a common practice of Japanese artists of the time, the numbers of names he used far exceeds that of any other major Japanese artist. Hokusai's name changes are so frequent, and so often related to changes in his artistic production and style, that they are useful for breaking his life up into periods.
At the age of 12, he was sent by his father to work in a bookshop and lending library, a popular type of institution in Japanese cities, where reading books made from wood-cut blocks was a popular entertainment of the middle and upper classes. At 14, he became an apprentice to a wood-carver, where he worked until the age of 18, whereupon he was accepted into the studio of Katsukawa Shunsho. Shunsho was an artist of ukiyo-e, a style of wood block prints and paintings that Hokusai would master, and head of the so-called Katsukawa school. Ukiyo e, as practiced by artists like Shunsho, focused on images of the courtesans and Kabuki actors who were popular in Japan's cities at the time.

His First Prints



After a year, Hokusai's name changed for the first time, when he was dubbed Shunro by his master. It was under this name that he published his first prints, a series of pictures of Kabuki actors published in 1779. During the decade he worked in Shunsho's studio, Hokusai was married to his first wife, about whom very little is known except that she died in the early 1790s. He would marry again in 1797, although this second wife also died after a short time. He fathered two sons and three daughters with these two wives, and his youngest daughter Sakae, also known as Oi, eventually became an artist like her father.

Exploring New Styles



Upon the death of Shunsho in 1793, Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. He was soon expelled from the Katsukawa school by Shunko, the chief disciple of Shunsho, possibly due to studies at the rival Kano school. This event was, in his own words, inspirational: "What really motivated the development of my artistic style was the embarrassment I suffered at Shunko's hands." The print Red Fuji from Hokusai's series, Thirty six Views of Mount Fuji. Travellers Crossing the Oi River, one of the ten prints Hokusai added to the original 36 prints in 36 Views of Mount Fuji. He was prompted to add these prints because of the popularity of the original series.

Hokusai also changed the subjects of his works, moving away from the images of courtesans and actors that were the traditional subjects of ukiyo-e. Instead, his work became focused on landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels. This change of subject was a breakthrough in ukiyo-e and in Hokusai's career. Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge (1790) dates from this period of Hokusai's life.

Height of His Career



The next period saw Hokusai's association with the Tawaraya School and the adoption of the name "Tawaraya Sori." He produced many brush paintings, called surimono, and illustrations for kyoka ehon (illustrated book of humorous poems) during this time. In 1798, Hokusai passed his name on to a pupil and set out as an independent artist , free from ties to a school for the first time, adopting the name Hokusai Tomisa.

By 1800, Hokusai was further developing his use of ukiyo-e for purposes other than portraiture. He had also adopted the name he would most widely be known by, Katsushika Hokusai, the former name referring to the part of Edo where he was born and the latter meaning, 'north studio'. That year, he published two collections of landscapes, Famous Sights of the Eastern Capital and Eight Views of Edo. He also began to attract students of his own, eventually teaching 50 pupils over the course of his life.

He became increasingly famous over the next decade, both due to his artwork and his talent for self-promotion. During a Tokyo festival in 1804, he created a portrait of the Buddhist priest Daruma said to be 600 feet (180 m) long using a broom and buckets full of ink. Another story places him in the court of the Shogun Iyenari, invited there to compete with another artist who practiced more traditional brush stroke painting. Hokusai's painting, created in front of the Shogun, consisted of painting a blue curve on paper, then chasing a chicken across it whose feet had been dipped in red paint. He described the painting to the Shogun as a landscape showing the Tatsuta River with red maple leaves floating in it, winning the competition.

1807 saw Hokusai collaborate with the popular novelist Takizawa Bakin on a series of illustrated books. The two did not get along due to artistic differences, and their collaboration ended during work on their fourth. The publisher, given the choice between keeping Hokusai or Bakin on the project, opted to keep Hokusai, emphasizing the importance of illustrations in printed works of the period.

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All text from   Wikipedia