Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hokusai: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through June 17, 2012

This is the first of several exhibits I'll be seeing this spring featuring the work of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).  He worked in many different media, so the shows shouldn't be at all repetitive.  It's nice to see the shows relatively close together; I'll be quite the Hokusai expert by the time summer arrives!  Hokusai was over 70 when these prints were first published in Edo (present-day Tokyo); yet more proof that age is no impediment to accomplishment.

This show is an exhibit of his pictures featuring (or at least including) Mount Fuji.  Sometimes, the mountain is the main subject of the work; other times, it is almost hidden in the piece.  There are several pieces, such as the one pictured above, that are done entirely in shades of blue; other prints are multi-color.  Each piece is accompanied by an explanation, so it takes a while to make your way through the entire show - longer than I had thought.  The time you'll spend is well worth it, however.

The first piece in the show is the masterpiece, Under the Wave off Kanagawa, better known as the "Great Wave."  It is wonderful - the power of the wave, the struggles of the boats to plow through it - a great way to start the exhibit.  The dye used is the Prussian blue dye mentioned in the "Colorful Realm" exhibit - a reminder of the great show at the National Gallery.

The phenomenon of "Red Fuji" is also explored in Hokusai's prints; the mountain appears red when the snowcap melts.  There were also several prints representing the seasons - the cherry blossoms represent spring in Japan, just as they do to Washingtonians.  I was reminded of the set of shows on the seasons in Asian Art at the Freer.

There are both urban and pastoral views in this show; both the city dwellers and the county folk are in view of Mount Fuji and influenced by its presence.  It is seen as both a protector and a powerful force to be reckoned with.  The importance of the mountain reminded me of my trips to Seattle, when my sister-in-law and brother-in-law would comment that "the mountain is out."  Mount Rainier seems to play a similar role in the life of that part of the Pacific Northwest.

Verdict: This is a lovely show - again, I was struck by the crowds - most assuredly not what I'm used to at the Sackler.  If you plan to see this show, allow for a bit of extra time to read all the descriptions of the prints.  

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