Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is considered to be one of the greatest artists by the entire art world. He devoted almost all of his 90 years of life to drawing and painting. Never satisfied with one technique or mastering one style of drawing, he always sought to improve as an artist. Every sketch, painting, and woodblock print is proof of his relentless pursuit of artistic perfection.
In 2020, British Museum added 103 block-ready drawings dated 1829 by Hokusai to its collection, representing a major new discovery to the life and work of the late master. A wide range of subjects are represented in these drawings, from religious and mythological figures, to animals, birds, flowers and landscapes. Subjects relating to China, Southeast Asia and India are abundant, with themes previously unseen in Hokusai’s work.
While these drawings were intended for publication under the title ‘Great Picture Book of Everything’, for an unknown reason, this never took place. As a result, the drawings were not destroyed during the process of carving, making them extremely rare.
Other similar examples from Hokusai’s work that did make it to print include his wonderful ‘One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji’ (1835-1880) published in 3 volumes and ‘Hokusai’s Manga’ (1814-1878), comprising literally thousands of images in 15 volumes.
Hokusai had a deep connection to Mount Fuji, which had become a place of worship and pilgrimage for ascetic Buddhists and Shinto sects alike in the Edo period (1603- 1868). The series followed Hokusai’s successful colour prints of ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’. Though in absence of colour, the one hundred views series displays Hokusai’s unique composition, sometimes challenging the viewer to spot the playfully concealed peak of Mount Fuji.
As for ‘Hokusai’s Manga’, it was originally intended as a drawing instruction manual but Hokusai almost immediately removed the text and republished the drawings alone. The series took the artist on an encyclopaedic venture, from seemingly insignificant depictions of everyday objects to spirits and historical figures.