Katsushika Hokusai


Katsushika Hokusai was a famous Japanese artist during the Edo period. Katsushika Hokusai started his career at an early age. He started working when he was twelve at the bookshop. Two years later, he worked as a wood-carver’s assistant. At the age of eighteen, he got accepted to Katsukawa Shunsho’s studio. This was the most important milestone in his career. Under Katsukawa Shunsho training, Hokusai became a printmaker and Ukiyo-e painter. Later in his life, he became extremely well known as an all-rounded artist.


His artworks included variety of styles from illustrations to prints and paintings. One of his specialties was using woodblock print technique called Ukiyo-e. “Ukiyo-e means ‘floating world picture’ or ‘pictures of the floating world’. It is a term used to describe the Japanese wood-block prints produced between the 17th and 20th centuries that focused on the depiction of famous actors, courtesans and prostitutes, landscapes and erotica.” (The Ukiyo-e) Most of his artworks focus on portraying nature, which included landscapes, birds, fish, and also common people’s activities. (Flynn)

Katsushika Hokusai was at the peak of his career when he published the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji series. It was the most well known through all of his artworks and became a representation of Katsushika Hokusai. The series was not only famous in Japan at that time, but also became a source of inspiration of many European artists in early nineteen century. It also had a direct impact on Art Nouveau.

Screen Shot 2016-09-29 at 4.27.05 PM.png“The Japanese influence, however, went beyond the impact of woodblock prints on painting and graphic design. An 1831 print by Katsushika Hokusai from his series. Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji features the iconic mountain in the background and a man fishing in the foreground. Both elements reappear as details in an inkstand intricately decorated in silver and cloisonne enamels made by the firm of Frederic Boucheron in 1876” (Hammond)


Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji is a series portray Mount Fuji, a symbol of Japan, in different perspectives and different times through out the year. As its title, the series included thirty-six pieces in the original publication. However, the series was extremely well-received from public. Therefore, ten more paintings were added to the series later by Hokusai, which increase the number of the series to forty-six paintings in total.




Work Cited
Flynn, Patricia, “Vision of People: The Influences of Japanese Prints-Ukiyo-e Upon Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century French Art.” Yale-New Haven Teacher Institute. 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.

Hammond, Jeff Michael. “How Japan’s Art Inspired the West.” The Japan Times, August 14, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2014/08/14/arts/how-japans-art-inspired-the-west/#.V-1KuyMrK3V.

Katsushika Hokusai, Ukiyo-e, Edo Period Japan




Why Did Japonism Flourish in France?


Before the Art Nouveau period had taken its grasp on European Art, a drastic change was taking place within the European Nations. The industrial revolution had taken place, opening up for highly commercialized civilizations with a major emphasis on production. The period between the 18th to the 19th century witnessed the progression from the romanticism movement, to the realism movement, to impressionism, and into the Art Nouveau period. Throughout this time, the idea of the artist and the ‘work’ had shifted dramatically, corresponding significantly with the culture of the time.

To understand the culture means to understand the art, and by the mid 19th century, a major shift had taken place in countries like France, where the burgeoning middle class suddenly money and spending was at its highest. With the Art Nouveau period came a thirst for something new. When the Japanese finally opened up their borders to foreign trade, that something was finally found.

There is no doubt to the significance of Japanese art on the Art Nouveau period. French audiences heavily sought after the Ukiyo-e woodblocks for their unique style on the print technique, which had become very prominent in the French Culture. In a time where French prints and posters were dominated by Western visuals and society, the Japanese prints represented a culture that seemed pure, untainted by time. Artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro became icons of the Japonism movement, with their depictions of edo-period life. The style that was brought over revolutionized the graphics world. It introduced a composition of space that was based around flat color and crisp lines. This deviation from the one-point perspective can be seen in many works, including Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster for the nightclub Le Divan Japonais.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Divan Japonais, c.1892-93

With a more flat area of color and asymmetrical composition, it is very reminiscent of Utimaro’s “Woman Playing with the Mirror” c. 1796, even within the characters expressions.

Kitagawa Utamaro, Women playing with the mirror, 1797


This sense of Japanese movement and expression is translated along with the erotic nature of art that was becoming apparent in the Art Nouveau period. A lot of Hokusai’s art involving humans contained high level of eroticism, such as his piece “The Adonis Plant (Fukujusô)” c. 1815.


Katsushika Hokusai, The Adonis Plant (Fukujusô), 1815

This portrayal of the erotic had made its way into Art Nouveau work, shown in the work of Gustav Klimt. His piece “Beethoven Frieze” c.1901, reveals a level of eroticism, shown through the expressions of the nude woman.

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, 1901



In a culture so heavily transformed by the Industrial Revolution, the introduction of Japanese woodprints must have come as a refreshing backtrack. From a culture that was changing so fast, the Japanese culture, with its traditional practices and unique style represented the exotic new. With a large theme of the art Nouveau period stemming from breaking tradition, the influence of the Japanese works seems ironic yet fitting. It was a style they had never witnessed before, with a clear divide in the western and eastern transformation of art. In this way, the Japonism that took place in France couldn’t have taken place at a better time. But with the movement out of romanticism and the opening of Japanese borders, it seemed it was meant to be.






Chapter 3: Japan and Art Nouveau?

So far in this course Art Nouveau has been my favorite chapter. It branches into poster design, experimental typography, curvilinear forms, and an overall style that feels more contemporary; thus relatable.

Although I enjoyed all the work in Chapter 3,  I could not help myself from being critical of the lack of depth the chapter contained when it comes to Japanese works and artists themselves. For most if not all of the countries mentioned in Chapter 3 there primary influence for graphic design and illustration was Japan. European countries and the United States were influenced by Ukiyo-e wood block prints, and the style of work used by these artists and designers was referred to as ‘Japonisme’.

One would argue that Japanese graphic design and illustration are one some of the primary influences for Art Nouveau and possibly modern day graphic design and illustration. With this being said, chapter 3 began with France opposed to Japan and it failed to give Japan the proper attention to detail it deserved. The chapter consistently referred to Japan as an influence and I would go as far to say it gave a sense of foundation and consistency for Art Nouveau. Chapter 3 included three images of works from Japan and only one was a clear and visible print. Not only does this limit readers from learning about Art Nouveau in its totality, it also restricts this time period from a Western perspective which could be counter productive.

In the first sentence of paragraph three I state that Japanese design and illustration in the 1850’s influences the fields to this day, I would like to expand on that topic. For a lot of artists today one of the influences hat got them into their practice is drawing cartoons. Anime  (Japanese cartoons) and Manga (Japanese comics) influenced numerous artists to get into the field even though a good number of them branch away from Anime and Manga.


The above work is a piece by Beardlsey (French artist) that uses curvilinear forms, pattern and overlap with a focus on strong 2D contours and lines. When I saw Beardsley work I immediately thought of xxxHolic, a manga produced in 2003 (pictured below).



There are numerous parallels between Clamp’s xxxHolic and Beardsley’s work: the patterns, repetition, backgrounds, curvilinear forms and more. I highlight these two for two reasons. For one, I want to acknowledge the ways in which Ukiyo-e still impacts modern day illustration and graphic design. Secondly, with the information given in chapter 3 I can easily compare Beardsley to the work of Clamp. However, with only one visible Ukiyo-e print in chapter 3 it is difficult for me to find a comparable image with Clamp’s xxxHolic (Japanese art) to a 1850 Japanese work of art. Chapter 3 was very enjoyable but it fell short on providing proper context, information, and detail when it came to Japan during the Art Nouveau period. If given a more in depth analysis and walk through of Japan; the chapter would have grounded readers on the  foundation of Art Nouveau and the ways in which it impacts contemporary art.


Japan and Art Nouveau


1up_0143, 4/23/13, 7:18 PM, 8C, 4368×6344 (940+832), 100%, bent 6 stops, 1/60 s, R76.4, G57.2, B70.9

Art nouveau was heavily influenced by Japanese art this phenomenon was later referred to as Japonism. This influence was brought on mainly due to the Japanese wood-block prints that consisted of floral, bulbous forms and whiplash curves. This influence started after the trading rights were established with Japan in the 1860s. Before then Japan was a secluded country and after the trading rights westerns were finally able to look into Japan’s art and culture.


One of the main Japanese prints that many took inspiration from was Hokusai’s “The Great Wave”. Many were taken by the flat-perspective, bold lines, curves and strong use of color. Art nouveau was a movement that wanted to stray from the norm and Japanese prints were different from that. They would often refer to the natural world. They would contain organic forms and layers.


Siegried Bing was one of the main figures in the introduction of the Japanese arts. He was a German art dealer living in Paris. He had owned an import-export business which concentrated on the sales of Japanese and other Asian objects. He opened a gallery called the Maison de l’Art Nouveau. His gallery had works from William Morris to glassware by Tiffany. He had aslo published a monthly journal Le Japon Artistique.  The main focus of this journal was to celebrate the dynamic creative crossing of Japanese Design and European Art.


Le Japon Artistique volume 10 distinctly shows Japanese art. The figures are traditional Japanese people. From the way the hair is to the lady wearing the kimono. The figure contains many repetitive lines in the gray of the kimono. The kimono shows of a floral pattern. The kimono is the focal point since the color is the boldest. This piece can be mistaken for being designed by a Japanese person instead of Siegried Bing because of the almost identical style to the Japanese Prints.

Work Cited

“Art Nouveau and Japonisme of Naturalistic Spoon.” Naturalistic Spoon, cefiro.main.jp/Art_Nouveau_Japonisme.html.

“Decorative Arts: Le Japon Artistique; Documents D’art Et D’industrie (v. 2): Le Japon Artistique Publication Mensuelle No.10 Février 1889 [femme Et Enfant, Par Kiyonaga].” Browse – UW Digital Collections, digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/DLDecArts/DLDecArts-idx?type=article&did=DLDecArts.JaponArtistiqueII.i0075&id=DLDecArts.JaponArtistiqueII&isize=M.

“Le Japon Artistique: Japanese Floral Pattern Design in the Art Nouveau Era by Museum Of Fine Arts Boston — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists.” Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10048423-le-japon-artistique.

Seishonagon3. “Art Nouveau from a historical perspective.” WordPress, aboutartnouveau.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/art-nouveau-in-history/.

Wanczura, Dieter. “Art Nouveau – Artelino.” Auctions of Japanese Prints – Artelino, http://www.artelino.com/articles/art_nouveau.asp.