Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was an Edo period Japanese artist, painter, wood engraver and ukiyo-e maker, born in Edo (now Tokyo). Author of the 13-volume sketchbook Hokusai manga (begun in 1814) and the block prints "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji," (created around 1823-1829), which includes "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa."
He is considered one of the outstanding figures of the Ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world" (everyday life), school of printmaking. His works were important sources of inspiration for many European impressionists like Claude Monet.
Hokusai was born in Edo (now Tokyo) in the 9th month of the 10th year of the period Horeki (October-November, 1760) to an artisan family. His father, Nakajima Issai, was a mirror-maker. At age eighteen, after some practice as a wood-engraver, he entered the studio of Katsugawa Shunsho, a painter and designer of color prints. His disregard for the artistic principles of his master caused his expulsion in 1785.
Between 1796 and 1802 he produced perhaps as many as 30,000 book illustrations and color prints. He often drew inspiration from the Japanese ordinary life, traditions and legends. In 1824 he published the book New Forms for Design, and his designs have inspired many Sashiko quilting patterns. Hokusai's most typical wood-block prints, silkscreens, and landscape paintings were done between 1830 and 1840.
Although from time to time Hokusai studied various styles, he maintained stylistic independence thereafter. 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 was an eager student to the end of his long life, and said on his deathbed, "If Heaven had lent me but five years more, I would have become a great painter." He died on May 10, 1849.
After his death, copies of some of his woodblock prints were sent to the West, and along with the works of other ukiyo-e artists, influenced such Western masters as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.
Katsushika Hokusai is generally more appreciated in Western culture than in Japan. Many works of Japanese printmakers were imported to Europe, especially Paris in the mid-19th century. They were collected and popular among impressionist artists as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose works bear signs of influence by Japanese art.
Perhaps his most recognized work is the woodblock "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa." The scene is of a great wave about to devour the men and boats, with the distant Mount Fuji minimized by the size of the wave. It is said to be a snapshot picture of a day of labor; one can see surprised men on barges, carrying fish. The waves in this work are sometimes mistakenly referred to as tsunami, but they are more accurately called okinami, great off-shore waves.
Hokusai had a long career, but he produced most of his important work after the age of 60. His most popular work is ukiyo-e series 36 Views of Mount Fuji, which was created between 1826 and 1833. It consists of 46 images (10 of them added later), but he produced outstanding pictures of almost every kind of subject - flowers, birds and scenery from legends and everyday life.
The largest of Hokusai's works is the 15-volume collection Hokusai Manga, a book crammed with inventive sketches and was published from 1814. Its caricatures are often considered the precedent to modern manga.