Beyond the Great Wave – Hokusai Exhibition at the British Museum

I visited this exhibition out of interest in Hokusai’s work in general but also for his landscape views in particular. The Great Wave is known throughout the world but Hokusai’s designs have also influenced contemporary photography. “Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri (c.1832) from the portfolio, The Thirty-six Views of Fuji”,  which I saw at the exhibition, was the inspiration for Jeff Wall’s image A Sudden Gust of Wind. I wrote a little about these two images on my previous Art History course.

Woodcut, Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri (c.1832) from the portfolio, The Thirty-six Views of Fuji, by Katsushika Hokusai Hokusai [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In East Asian traditional art, perspective was portrayed by placing distant objects high in the composition, an example of this, Mt Fuji  by Kano Isen’in Naganobu was displayed early on in the exhibition.

© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

It was, however, interesting to see how European portrayal of perspective influenced Japanese art. Two of the first images in the exhibition were Spring View Enoshima painted by Hokusai in 1797 and a portrayal of the same scene in Shichirigahawa Beach by Shakur Kokan. Whilst, at this time Hokusai is utilising a more traditionally Asian composition, Kokan was the leading European influenced artist of the day. Kokan used deeply receding perspective and painted the scene to look like an oil painting. It was interesting to note the differences between the two, and also to see how Hokusai’s style developed over the years.

Hokusai is now very well known for his series Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji which show how the form of Mount Fuji varies from place to place (indeed I mentioned one of them above). It is interesting to look closely at Hokusai’s style, in Sazai Hall at the temple of the five hundred  visitors to the temple admire the view of Mt Fuji.

© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)


The converging lines of the architecture encourage the viewer of the image to do the same. In The Great Wave Hokusai plays with European style perspective and draws the viewer to observe Mt Fuji from out at sea through the curve of the great wave.

One aspect of the exhibition which gave cause for thought was Hokusai’s series Wondrous Views of Famous Bridges in Various Provinces from around 1834, for example the Old View of the Boat Bridge at Sanofi in Kozuke Province and The Suspension Bridge on the Border of Hida and Etchu Provinces.

© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Perhaps this could be the inspiration for a series of landscape photos I could take of local bridges. I’ll have to see how this idea goes as the course progresses.