Resource: Late Hokusai: Thought, Technique, Society

Those who are interested in art history or just a fan of early modern painting and prints can explore Late Hokusai: Thought, Technique, Society, an online bilingual research project centered on situating the artist Hokusai (1780-1849) in his social and historical contexts through his work. According to the site, the project takes the Roger Keyes collection of Hokusai’s prints held at the British Museum as its launching point, aiming understand

first, how Hokusai’s art was animated by his thought and faith; second, how Hokusai’s mature style synthesized and redefined the diverse artistic vocabularies he had mastered earlier in his career, and how we can combine stylistic and seal analysis to help identify Hokusai’s genuine oeuvre; and finally, how Hokusai’s work was enabled by the networks that linked him to collaborators, pupils, patrons, and the public.

A large project team of scholars and specialists, including affiliates of the British Museum, School of Oriental and African Studies, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery have built this project to examine in-depth the various prints, drawings, and illustrated books that comprise Hokusai’s body of work.

The site is presently divided into three main sections under “Material,” including “Catalogue Raisonee,” “Bibliography, and “Illustrated Book.” The Catalogue section includes an extensive digital database formed from Catalogue Raisonné of the Single-Sheet Colour Woodblock Prints of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), a resource compiled by Roger Keyes and Peter Morse. While the original contains thousands of photographs and this database is only a text version, this digitized resource includes the multitude of notes and detailed information on each image, making it an invaluable resource. As the site states:

In addition to basic data, description and ascribed date of each print, Keyes lists and describes a sequence of numbered ‘states’, based on the relative degree of block damage observed in the outlines of the finished prints. Keyes also list and describes, where known, later ‘copies’ (facsimile reproductions), which started to be made in Japan from the 1880s, using recut blocks.

Those who wish to prepare for (or perhaps cannot visit) the actual collection will find this catalogue a useful guide to its content.

The Bibliography section contains a huge collection of written resources for researchers compiled into three different sections. The first contains an annotated bibliography (originally published in 1992) of writings on ukiyo-e that date back to 1886. To supplement this list, there is also a select bibliography that is more updated than 1992, stretching to the year 2016. These bibliographies are primarily English-language resources, but the final bibliography is a list of Hokusai-related articles from Ukiyo-e geijutsu (International Ukiyo-e Society, Tokyo, Japan) that traces Japanese scholarship from 1962 to 2015. Casual and serious researchers alike will find plenty of materials here to delve deeply into the study of Hokusai and Edo-period prints.

The final portion of the website is “Illustrated Book,” another database (regularly updated) that provides an online database of almost all of the illustrated books of Hokusai. The Hokusai Project website says the following of Hokusai’s books:

Hokusai designed illustrated books throughout his career, beginning in his teens and continuing until a few months before his death.  These books spanned several genres, from popular novels (kusazôshi and yomihon), through poetry collections (kyôka ehon), to teaching manuals for aspiring artists (edehon) – as well as perhaps his greatest achievement in print, One Hundred Views of Mt Fuji (Fugaku hyakkei).  Although not as well-known as his single-sheet prints, the majority of Hokusai’s work as a print designer went into his illustrated books, which are a testament to his extraordinary ability to bring the world to life on the page.

The database itself has multiple search options and returns digitized images of the books that are open-access for viewing and include Japanese transcriptions of the woodblocks’ text. There is an “English mode” for both the search interface and each individual object’s interface, so users will find it easy to navigate.

Interface for object viewing.

Whether a casual enthusiast or a research, there’s much to explore in the Late Hokusai project in both English and Japanese, so dive right in to the databases and get viewing!



About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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