At low tide a group of men and women gather to collect seaweed and shells. While half-naked men stretch, graceful women bend and a boy runs across the beach with a struggling turtle in both hands. In the background, two men struggle over a basket, encouraging the viewer’s eye to travel towards the misty hills beyond the water. Other impressions of this print are in Honolulu Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Hokusai Katsushika was born in Edo as Tamekazu Nakajima. Adopted by the mirror maker Ise Nakajima, Hokusai was raised as an artisan, learning to engrave at an early age. By age 14, he served as an apprentice to a woodcarver, by age 18 he began studying ukiyo-e printmaking with Shunsho. Hokusai dedicated himself to the Katsukawa school until 1785, when he was dismissed due to a disagreement with Shunsho. Between 1785 and 1797 Hokusai produced many prints, including surimono (lavish, privately commissioned prints), brush paintings, and book illustrations under several different go (artist names). In 1797, Hokusai freed himself of all school associations and became an independent artist under the name Hokusai, though he continued to use a wide array of go. He released the first of his Manga volumes in 1814, capturing the spectrum of daily life with a spontaneous and sketch-like quality.
Hokusai achieved great fame through his meisho-e (famous place pictures), such as the acclaimed series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1826-1833), which includes the iconic Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Hokusai’s woodblock prints incorporated Western perspective and daring composition into his landscapes. Hokusai revolutionized the Japanese landscape, capturing familiar locations with innovative techniques. In the 1820s, Prussian blue entered Japan through Dutch traders at Nagasaki. Hokusai was quick to explore this new pigment. This rich, opaque shade can be seen in Hokusai’s later woodblock prints, lending them a greater sense of depth than traditional colorants.
Between 1817 and 1835, Hokusai’s personal life was unsettled. While his artistic career flourished and his students proliferated, two of Hokusai’s marriages ended. Continually changing residences, he moved between Edo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto. He passed away on May 10th, 1849. Even after his death, Hokusai’s artwork had a profound influence on Western art and the development of Japonisme.