You don’t have to be a fan of Japanese art to be familiar with the famous Wave by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). It took the West by storm in the 19th century, inspiring artists like Renoir, Debussy, Monet and Van Gogh and sweeping on until everyone had caught the ‘japonisme’ bug. The first edition of the iconic print is currently on show at the Musée Départemental des Arts Asiatiques in the exhibition Voyage au pied du mont Fuji. The “old man crazy to paint” invites us to join him on his trip, through 126 prints from the prestigious Leskowicz collection and eight Manga sketchbooks (first editions). The show also includes sumptuous items of travelling gear and objects decorated with landscapes. We take in one masterpiece after another as we walk by: the 36 Views of Mont Fuji, the Waterfalls, the Bridges etc. Superb works in which the landscapes are subjects in their own right. In A Picture Book Of Roadhouse Bells, the artist depicts travellers and scenes from life on the Tokaido road in the Edo period; nothing escapes the master’s eye. Hokusai revolutionised the traditional codes of the Japanese woodblock print, framing his subject in new ways, combining Western rules of perspective with traditional Chinese and Japanese codes, and using Prussian blue, a synthetic pigment that had just recently reached Japan. Hokusai was a pioneer whose audacious creativity is endlessly fascinating. You can explore his work further with the museum’s guided tours, talks, live shows and concerts, and take part in woodblock printing workshops and demonstrations.
By Christine Mahé