Views of Mt. Fuji
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Views of Mt. Fuji

Katsushika Hokusai

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eBook - ePub

Views of Mt. Fuji

Katsushika Hokusai

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Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) was among the foremost ukiyo-e artists of his generation, and his Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji ranks among the best-known series of Japanese woodblock prints. This edition presents a full-color reprint of Hokusai's enduring masterpiece, plus his black-and-white series, One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji.
Hokusai created thousands of woodcut prints based on the traditions, legends, and lives of his countrymen. The artist blended Western perspective with traditional Eastern techniques to reinvent the art of the Japanese print. His timeless images achieved their greatest popularity in the West and influenced generations of artists, most notably Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas. Published in the 1830s, The Great Wave is Hokusai's most familiar vision of Mt. Fuji. This compilation, which depicts the sacred mountain from many angles and in all seasons, is a must for all lovers of Japanese art and woodblock prints of the floating world.

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One Hundred
View of Mt. Fuji
In the years 1830 to 1833, Hokusai was at the height of his powers. An old but incredibly productive man of over seventy, he had behind him a series of achievements in a variety of mediums and styles, culminating in the superb series of colour-prints, the “Thirty-six Views of Fuji”, the “Waterfalls”, the “Bridges” and the “Flowers”, now recently completed. At this peak, he turned as to a monumental labour of love and homage, to the preparation of a book of designs devoted to the Peerless Mountain. From the first, it was conceived consciously as his master-work: it was to be a final expression of faith such as another might have dedicated to a religious cause It was to sum up his artistic philosophy and practice: it was to express the whole gamut of his experience, from the meanness of his fellow creatures toiling for a handful of rice, to the sublimity of the great mountain stark against the empty sky.
To appreciate the greatness of Hokusai’s book, we must know something of the veneration, amounting to idolatry, of this mountain peak among the Japanese; and something, too, of the art of the picture book in Japan.
The bald geographical and geological facts about Fuji are briefly stated. A quiescent volcano, last active in 1707/8, it is 12393 feet at Ken-ga-mine, the highest point of the crater wall at the summit, and is thus the highest mountain in Japan. In circumference, at the base, it is one hundred miles. In shape, seen from afar, it approximates to a cone, but the sides are not equal, and each makes a sweeping catenary curve forming, with the broken apex, an assymetrical pattern so utterly Japanese in spirit that one feels that if Fuji did not exist in actual fact, Japanese artists would have created it. Arising as it does, isolated, in the midst of a broad plain, it is a dominant feature of the landscape of many surrounding districts, and a popular map is the Fuji-mi Jusanshu, the “Thirteen Provinces whence Fuji can be viewed”. The ascent of Fuji, not particularly arduous or dangerous in the summer months, is a pilgrimage that every good Japanese makes at least once during his life-time.
Fuji, in fact, has from earliest times been nothing less than an obsession with the Japanese. Other countries have natural features universally known within and outside their borders—the Niagara Falls and the Table Mountain are instances that come to mind—but none of these features has a significance to the inhabitants of those countries comparable to that of Fuji to the Japanese. It is more than simply a symbol of the homeland, such as the Dome of St. Pauls is to Londoners, or the Eiffel Tower to Parisians; it is more than the abode of the Gods, as Olympus was to the ancient Greeks. It signifies the long history and the aspirations of the race; it is a token of all the scenic beauty of the land, and by inference, represents the impressibility of the people to nature. Among national symbols, perhaps the Statue of Liberty comes nearest to this summing up of a people’s ideals, but that was man-made to represent those ideals.
Some of the first poems in the native language show that already, in the 8th century, Fuji was revered with superstitious awe. In the Nara anthology called Manyoshu, the “Collection of One Thousand Leaves”, is an anonymous poem that contains these lines:
“No words may tell of it, no name know I that is fit for it,
But a wondrous deity it surely is!
… It is the peace giver, it is the god, it is the treasure. On the peak of Fuji, in the land of Suruga,
I never weary of gazing.”
The earliest scrolls of the true Japanese style of painting, the Yamato-e of the 12th and 13th centuries, contain memorable depictions of Fuji, isolated in grandeur, or a back-drop to tempestuous events in the foreground. It is drawn with studied reverence, girt with clouds that crown it as, in western painting, a nimbus marks the saintly head. In verse and scroll, it almost seems that as the new nation became aware of itself, Fuji was chosen as an emblem of artistic, as well as national, independence.
In the field of the decorative arts, especially in metalwork and lacquer, Fuji recurs again and again, on the large ink-box and on the exquisitely-made inro, on sword-guard and stilettohaft—whether for writer or warrior, Fuji was equally appropriate. It is a favourite subject in landscape netsuke, accompanied sometimes by Saigyo, the mediaeval poet, looking towards it for inspiration, or by Yoritomo, leader of the Minamoto clan in the 12th century, shoivn boar-hunting with Nitta, his retainer, at the foot of the mountain. As one of the Three Lucky Things, (Fuji, Falcon and Egg-plant, to dream of which was a mark of good-fortune), Fuji often figured on surimono, the New Year’s Greeting Cards. It is a frequent motif in brocade pattern; in bonzai (dwarf gardens): in porcelain decoration; in the decoration of practically everything the Japanese ever used or wore. It is like a signature tune denoting “Japan”. It may be difficult to account for this predominant place in the people’s hearts, but then we are, after all, far from accounting for a number of their customs and for many of the traits of their character—the idolatry of the Emperor, for example, or that strange duality of personality which permits a callousness to human suffering and a hypersensitiveness to the fine arts to co-habit in the same individual. It is a fact we must accept.
Hokusai was a sort of self-styled encyclopoedist of Japanese life and custom. Birth, inclination and artistic gifts predestined him to such a function. He was steeped in the lore of his country, in its traditions, its poetry, the associations of each place-name. ...

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