The first time I saw Hokusai’s Great Wave it was on the cover of Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea”. It took sometime for me to realise that the image was much, much more famous than the book. Now the British Museum has an exhibition looking not only at Hokusai’s career after he created the Great Wave.
Standing in front of the print for the first time, I realised that there are tiny fishing boats struggling against the might of the wave. The Great Wave is not some rarified work of art that was owned only by the very wealthy. There were many thousands of prints made and they were sold at a price that ordinary households could afford.
Natural forms of all types captured Hokusai’s imagination. I love this carp caught in a torrent of water. Somehow his eye seems to fix on you as he swims downstream heading for calmer waters.
The famous Great Wave print is actually quite small, that cannot be said of this extraordinary painted panel. The crashing wave is contained within a lavish gilded floral frame that somehow seems quite right. There are two of these next door to each other and are on loan from Japan. They are ceiling panels make for a festival cart made when the artist was 85.
Many of the objects on display are shown rarely as they are extremely fragile. Halfway through the exhibition some of the more vulnerable works are to be removed and replaced with other similar items to prevent the vivid colours from fading. Being able to examine the Great Wave closely and those two magnificent panels are worth visiting the show for alone.
British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3BG
25 May 2017 – 13 August 2017 (closed July 3-6)
Open: Daily 10am – 5.30pm (Friday until 8.30pm)
Admission: £12, concessions available, children under 16 free.
Whilst you are at the British Museum you might also like to visit the Waddeson Bequest, an amazing room crammed with equistite objects and free to visit.