More than 100 postcard-sized drawings by Katsushika Hokusai will be on display to the public for the first time in two centuries after being acquired by the British Museum. The museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, claims the drawings were “remarkable and unique, the discovery alone is incredible.”
Hokusai is most famously known for The Great Wave, one of the most recognizable and reproduced artworks of all time. He’s known for having extreme influence on 19th-century European impressionist art; Van Gough was deeply inspired by Hokusai.
According to the museum, at some point in the 1840s, when Hokusai would’ve been in his 80s, he began working on a new project called The Great Picture Book of Everything, in which he let his imagination run completely wild with fantastical and intricate drawings of beautiful fantasy scenes.
The project was never published, so the drawings were simply put in a box, and have been stored away ever since. The history of these prints is rather unknown. They were once owned by Henry Vever, a Japanese art collector who died in 1942; a century after they were originally made.
In 1948 the prints appeared at an auction in Paris, and were purchased to become a part of a private French collection, where they were eventually forgotten about. In 2019, they reappeared at a Paris auction, where the British Museum purchased them for around $270,000.
“They were created at a time modern audiences could relate to. These drawings were created in a period of lockdown, if you will, when Japan had closed its borders for almost 200 years.”
Fischer explained that at the time, “contact with the outside world was limited and strictly regulated and even journeys within the country required an official permit. It is a situation many of us can sympathize with.”
The drawings mainly depict religious and mythological figures as well as animals, birds, and flowers. Alfred Haft, a project curator at the museum, said “all 103 drawings were gems, each rewarding close study, each showing us Hokusai’s lively mind and hand at work together.”
Fischer said Hokusai’s art combined “boundless invention, subtle humour and deep humanity. The museum already has one of the most comprehensive collections of Hokusai’s work outside Japan, so this is the appropriate home for the drawings in my opinion.”
Currently anyone can view the drawings on the British Museum’s website, and the actual drawings will be on display in the museum for the first time in history starting September 30th until January 2022.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.