Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Giant Wave

Recent disastrous events in Japan, a major earthquake followed by devastating tsunamis, a volcano and then finally the terror of exploding nuclear power plants brought the whole world's focus to the island nation. Here in Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave at Kanagawa, we see a quintessential image of Japan that seems to foreshadow the coming deadly wave. 

The Great Wave at Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai 
Color woodblock print, 1830 - Edo Period

Japan is no stranger to the real danger of tsunami waves but the wave Hokusai may have sensed approaching was the inevitable entry of a reluctant Japan into a world of global trade. In Hokusai's time Japan was still a closed system. People were forbidden to travel on pain of death and only the Dutch and Chinese were allowed in to trade, and only in Nagasaki. Yet here it comes, the irrepressible wave of modern global trade. 

Culturally the change had already begun. Hokusai painted his Great Wave using Prussian blue, a European color (possibly produced in China) and his take on perspective, Mount Fuji in the distance, was influenced by Dutch copperplate prints that he'd seen. The influence was then returned when Edo period prints, ubiquitous and inexpensive when they were produced in Japan, became popular in the west. Artists Monet, Whistler, Cassatt and Van Gogh are among those profoundly influenced by these Japanese woodblock prints.

It is a small world. Please help if you can.
Link to: Japan Red Cross

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