The Humility of Hokusai

Hokusai
Woodblock print The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai
The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai

One hundred and seventy-six elegant woodblock prints by Japanese nineteenth century artist Katsushika Hokusai are on display in Melbourne at the NGV. It’s a huge exhibition and a popular one. What is it about these images, from a culture aeons from mine in sensibility and almost two centuries in time that are so riveting? And why do they remind me of Turner, Freidrich and Cozens – those Northern European painters for whom landscape was a metaphor of transcendence? What could a Japanese printmaker have in common with a Romantic painterly sensibility?

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