[Japanese Ukiyo-e Printmaker, 1760-1849]
The greatest of all the Japanese painters of the Popular School (Ukiyo-ye), was born at Tokyo in the 9th month of the 10th year of the period Horeki, that is, October to November 1760. He came of an artisan family, his father having been a mirror maker, Nakajima Issai. After some practice as a wood engraver he, at the age of eighteen, entered the studio of Katsugawa Shunsho, a painter and designer of color prints of considerable importance. His disregard for the artistic principles of his master caused his expulsion in 1785; and thereafter -- although from time to time Hokusai studied various styles, including especially that of Shiba Gokan, from whom he gained some fragmentary knowledge of European methods -- he kept his personal independence. For a time he lived in extreme poverty, and, although he must have gained sums for his work which might have secured him comfort, he remained poor, and to the end of his life proudly described himself as a peasant. He illustrated large numbers of books, of which the world-famous Manga, a pictorial encyclopaedia of Japanese life, appeared in fifteen volumes from 1812 to 1875 (these volumes are the precursors of the manga prominent in Japanese pop culture after World War II.)
Of his color prints the "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" (the whole set consisting of forty-six prints) were made between 1823 and 1829; "Views of Famous Bridges" (11), "Waterfalls" (8), and "Views of the Lu-chu Islands" (8), are the best known of those issued in series; but Hokusai also designed some superb broadsheets published separately, and his surimono (small prints made for special occasions and ceremonies) are unequalled for delicacy and beauty. The "Hundred Views of Mount Fuji" (1834-35, 3 vols.), in monochrome, are of extraordinary originality and variety. As a painter and draughtsman Hokusai is not held by Japanese critics to be of the first rank, but this verdict has never been accepted by Europeans, who place him among the greatest artists of the world. Hokusai is generally more appreciated in the West than in Japan. His prints, as well as those by other Japanese printmakers, were imported to Paris in the mid-19th century. They were enthusiastically collected, especially by such impressionist artists as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, whose work was profoundly influenced by them. He possessed great powers of observation and characterization, a singular technical skill, an unfailing gift of good humor, and untiring industry. He was an eager student to the end of his long life, and on his deathbed said, "If Heaven had lent me but five years more, I should have become a great painter. He died on the 10th of May 1849.