It’s ironic that admiring truly inspiring physical feats has left me glued to the couch more than usual, watching the Olympics! In addition to the impressive sporting achievements, my gaze was drawn to the breathtaking landscapes that serve as the backdrop for many events.
The people of China and Japan have long revered and sought to depict landscape, making Oriental landscape painting one of the most fascinating and beautiful genres of art in the world. Imbued with meaning, these paintings have been appreciated across many dynasties.
In Europe, the fashion for exotic objects from the Far East began to sweep across the continent from the 15th century, when Portuguese traders began to import Chinese porcelain and paintings.
Chinese landscape painting came to Japan with Zen Buddhism and gradually developed its own distinct style. One of its most famous and recognized representatives is the artist, woodcarver and engraver Katsushika Hokusai, who lived from 1760 to 1849.
Known simply as Hokusai, he is best known for the ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’ woodblock print series, which includes the internationally iconic print ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ (now usually abbreviated as “The Great Wave”).
Unfortunately, original Hokusai artwork is outside the realm of most normal budgets. Last year, his 1831 woodcut “Beneath the Well of the Great Wave off Kanagawa,” sold at auction for $1.6 million, 10 times its astonishingly low estimate of $150,000. .
However, Hokusai Great Wave and Mount Fuji prints are being applied to more and more decorative items. So if you can’t afford an original painting, you can certainly buy a print, a mouse pad, a bag or a mug, as well as many books containing sumptuous high-quality reproductions.
We’ve definitely seen an increase in Hokusai-related items in the center (unfortunately, no originals yet!). Art books start at around £10 and collectables like mugs from the British Museum, which held a Hokusai exhibition this winter, from £8. Carefully curated postcards from their previous Hokusai exhibition from the 1950s, fully fledged historical documents, from £4.
And keep an eye out: treasures can pop up in the most unexpected places. The British Museum’s recent exhibition included a recently rediscovered book of 103 original Hokusai wave prints, lost in Paris for more than 70 years. Definitely a catch worth casting your net for!