Thursday, April 18, 2024

Katsushika Hokusai's Art

Great Wave off Kanagawa - Public Domain

In November 2023, I was visiting my daughter in Washington near Seattle. We found out about an art exhibit for Katsushika Hokusai’s art and visited one afternoon. The exhibit was one of the most amazing to me. Hokusai’s art is just incredible and his contribution to the art world is still impactful. 

For pronunciation: Consonants are like English, vowels like Spanish. So Hokusai is Ho - Coo - Sigh. Also, in Japanese, traditionally the surname comes first and the personal name second. Thus, Hokusai is his familiar or personal name while Katsushika is his family or surname. 


Age 83

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was one of Japan’s great artists. He lived almost 90 years and changed his name 30 times. Most of his name changes reflected where he was at in his art production. We’ll look at a few of those.


Hokusai began drawing when he was only six years old. Some believe he got his start by helping his father, who polished metal mirrors for the shōgun. The mirrors included art work around the edges, usually flowers and vines.


When he was 18, Hokusai became an apprentice to artist, Shunshō, working at his school. His master called Hokusai, Shunrō, and this is the name Hokusai used when he published his first book of prints. After the master’s death, Hokusai had to leave the school when his thirst for knowledge of art led him to learn from a rival school.


Courtesan Sleeping
Public Domain
(Try enlarging the picture 
to see the incredible detail.)

Under Shunshō, Hokusai did mostly prints of courtesans and people of the court. When he left the school, his art focused more on landscapes and daily life. His depictions of the daily life of Japanese people were vivid and detailed. 


At 51, Hokusai became known as Taito and began a new type of art to him. He did more simplified drawings, creating Hokusai Manga. The art he produced at this time influences the manga of today. The style of artwork is very similar. He published 12 volumes of his manga during his life and three were published posthumously.


Red Fuji - Public Domain

The 1820’s to mid-1830’s were a time of renown for Hokusai’s art. His name during this period was Litsu and his fame in Japan grew. He created his most famous work, 36 Views of Mount Fuji. This collection contained “Great Wave off Kanagawa”, Hokusai’s most famous painting. The wave painting (pictured above) is reproduced often today in a variety of ways, including on the shower curtain in my guest bathroom. If you watch for that wave picture, you’ll start to notice where it’s used.


Hawfinch and Marvel-of-Peru 
Small Flowers Series 1834

Hokusai never stopped learning or growing as an artist. He believed he would not truly understand art until he reached 90, and it would be better if he could live until 130, when he would have divine understanding of art and would have “reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive.” 


From 36 View of Mount Fuji

During his 80s, Hokusai continued his art, mostly painting in his latter years. He had a table set up for him to produce art any time he wanted. His daughter lived with him and cared for him. She was also an artist. 


Wisteria and Wagtail
Small Flowers Series

On his deathbed, Hokusai reportedly said, “If only Heaven will give me just another ten years…five years, then I could become a real painter.”


I hope someday you have the chance to visit an exhibit of Hokusai’s art. The detail is exquisite. His pen and ink sketches have such a graceful style and his drawings of every day life are very detailed and lifelike. 


Have you ever heard of Hokusai? Have you seen some of his artwork? I’d love to hear from you. Be sure to enlarge the pictures in this post so you can see the detail he adds to his artwork.

The Night Attack - 1780s
From the real life story of the 47 Ronin.

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning, best-selling author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats and dog, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Thank you for posting. The word I think of when viewing Japanese art is "graceful". I'm not sure if I have ever heard of this man.

    1. I love the word graceful for Japanese art. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for posting about this artist and his art, Nancy! I have not heard of him, but now I'm going to be looking for that wave. I especially liked his pictures of birds.