In the time between Christmas and New Year’s, there is usually chaos in Washington D.C.. Gift returns, shopping for yourself, watching streaming television… it’s exhausting. So take some time out for peace and beauty.
Go see Hokusai, Mad About Painting.
The Smithsonian’s National Museums of Asian Art, (formerly the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery), has reached into its huge archives to bring out books, fans, and screens, to bring to life the masterful Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai.
His work is known to much of the western world from one woodblock print: the Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa. The towering wave with snow-topped Mt. Fuji in the background is so so well-known that it will be on Japan’s currency 1000 yen note in 2024.
Hokusai himself was an “obsessive,” said Frank Feltens, the Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art. The artist started sketching at six. Hokusai “had an insatiable urge to paint.” As he grew older, he published under several names, but in his fifties, hit by lightning, he “became a changed man,” Feltens said.
It’s worth stopping and reading the panels at the start of the exhibit about Hokusai’s life. In his youth, he sold prints of the ukiyo-e woodblocks of beautiful kimono-clad courtesans graduating to painted screens and manga books of his doodles. It was after he was sixty that he did the famous series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and other major works.
Out of the Freer archives comes a very rare piece. The scroll “Pounding Rice for Mochi” shows two men and two women at work. What makes this so special? The cloth on the top and bottom are original dating back to circa 1822, showing very different designs. Most scrolls have been re-mounted on newer silks as the original fabric deteriorates.
Hokusai wanted to live until one hundred and ten when he felt he might have reached the artistic level he wanted. On display is his last scroll painting, Thunder God, with a demon of immense power.
He died at ninety.
This exhibit will be on display until November 2020. The current scrolls will be rotated with others for preservation reasons.