Why Is The Great Wave Off Kanagawa So Famous?

Why Is The Great Wave Off Kanagawa So Famous?

The work explores the impact of western culture and the advancement it had on conventional Japan. It gives a time stamp of the situation of Japan transitioning from its old way to a modern Japan. 

Although Japan opened its ports to outsiders in 1859; this masterpiece was created using a particular and exceptional European pigment: Prussian blue, which implies that a social trade existed during the 1830s.

After opening its ports to the western world, Hokusai's artwork immediately got famous and The Great Wave Off Kanagawa was sent out to Europe and America, where it was admired by famous artists like Van Gogh, Whistler, and Monet.

The artwork has impacted numerous contemporary artists and poets. It has become something like its own brand in our modern times, a work famous for being famous.

Factors That Make The Great Wave Off Kanagawa So Famous

  1. Iconic imagery: The composition features a massive wave towering over fishing boats, with Japan's iconic Mount Fuji in the background. This combination of natural elements ‚Äď the dynamic wave, the boats struggling against its force, and the serene mountain ‚Äď creates a captivating and powerful visual contrast.

  2. Skillful technique: Hokusai's woodblock printing technique, which required meticulous carving and printing using multiple blocks, resulted in intricate details, bold contrasts, and a sense of movement in the image. The unique visual style and skillful execution of the print have contributed to its lasting impact.

  3. Influence on Western art: During the 19th century, Japan was largely isolated from the Western world. However, in the mid-19th century, Japan's borders gradually opened to international trade and diplomacy, and art from Japan, including Hokusai's prints, began to circulate in Europe. "The Great Wave" caught the attention of Western artists, including Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, who were influenced by its composition, color usage, and depiction of nature.

  4. Symbolism and universal themes: The print's depiction of the immense power of nature ‚Äď represented by the wave ‚Äď and the vulnerability of humanity in the face of such forces resonates with viewers across cultures and time. It touches on themes of the sublime, man's relationship with nature, and the transitory nature of existence.

  5. Reproduction and dissemination: Woodblock prints like "The Great Wave" were relatively affordable to produce, making them accessible to a broader audience. This accessibility led to widespread circulation and exposure, contributing to the print's popularity and recognition.

  6. Cultural significance: "The Great Wave" has become an iconic representation of Japanese art and culture. Its distinctive style and imagery have made it synonymous with traditional Japanese woodblock printing and an emblem of Japanese aesthetics.

  7. Popularity in modern culture: The print's enduring popularity is evident through its influence on contemporary art, design, and popular culture. It has been referenced and parodied in various media, including advertisements, fashion, and even tattoos.

All these factors combined have contributed to the widespread fame and enduring legacy of "The Great Wave off Kanagawa." It is not just a famous artwork but also a symbol of the enduring power of art to transcend time, cultures, and geographical boundaries.

Understanding The Great Wave And Japanese Heritage

The Great Wave displays the creativity and skills of Katsushika Hokusai in working with the customary Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock in print style; which requires cutting wooden squares individually, for each tone and shading. 

The squares must be smoothed and assembled together and the artistic design perfectly cut into the wood. Afterward, all areas must be covered with ink, while squeezing the whole square piece against a piece of paper. One reason for the success of The Great Wave in Japan was that it was printed in various colors. 

What does the great wave off Kanagawa mean?

Researchers and art historians have different ideas about the true meaning of the Great Wave. However, one of the focal points behind the Great Wave is that it depicts Mount Fuji as as a symbol of Japan.

Mount Fuji is viewed as a blessed and sacred ground. It represents Japan's strength, excellence, and culture. Mount Fuji is notable in numerous Japanese paintings.

Hokusai's produced thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, which unfolded with the Great Wave scene. The dim color around Mount Fuji appears to show that the scene is happening in the beginning of the day, with the sun ascending from behind the people. 

Hokusai moved away from the conventional way of making prints of prostitutes and on-screen characters, which was the standard subject of ukiyo-e prints. Rather, his work concentrated on the day by day life of Japanese individuals from an assortment of social levels.

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How was The Great Wave off Kanagawa created?

The Great Wave is not exactly a Japanese painting it's a print made in the conventional way of Japanese ukiyo-e. A woodblock print is made via cutting a composition into a square with sharp blades and other devices. 

Then the areas of the woodblock are layered with ink and the square is secured solidly against the piece of paper to deliver the print.

Color woodblock prints like the 'Great Wave' are derived via cutting one square for each color. Most of the Japanese artists before 1945 cut and printed their own works. The wooden blocks were designed by experienced carvers. It could take up to ten years of apprenticeship before they could create a multicolor woodblock print.

The Great Wave Symbol

What does the great wave off Kanagawa symbolize?

Great Wave was symbolic of the changing Japanese society. In the Great Wave, the pontoons speak to components of Japan with the inevitable change and the uncertainty of new japan. The ocean was held to be a defensive boundary and the medium through which Japan will experience the world.

The first crowd of people who bought Hokusai's prints where the townspeople who viewed Mount Fuji as divine. The locals often made journeys to the mountain even outside travelers visiting the new capital city would make the climb. The summit of the mountain would have an amazing view overlooking the whole city. Japanese woodblock prints were frequently bought as trinkets for the journey. 

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The Iconic Great Wave

The Great Wave off Kanagawa By Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave off Kanagawa By Katsushika Hokusai

The 1831 woodblock print, Under the Wave off Kanagawa, delineates a swell of ocean water that seems to immerse the boatmen.


How much is the great wave off Kanagawa worth?

In March 2009 Christie's New York sold an undated 'print' for $68,500, while a decent print that was blurry and recolored was sold for $35,000. More recently a high quality print was sold at Bonhams New York in September 2012. A large number of prints of this 10 x 15in (25.5 x 38cm) artwork were originally produced. The British Museum has three original prints.

Where is the original Great Wave off Kanagawa?

After Hokusai's demise, his seller kept on printing from this original square. It's accepted that somewhere in the range of 5,000 and 10,000 prints were produced using the original plate. Yet somewhere close to 100 and maybe upwards of 500 original prints likely exist. 

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The Best Places to See Hokusai's Great Wave

Where can I see Hokusai waves?

The Great Wave is Housed at these museums and galleries:

  • Sumida Hokusai Museum
  • Ota Memorial Museum of Art
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The British Museum
  • The Art Institute of Chicago
  • The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • The National Gallery of Victoria
  • Fondation Claude Monet (Claude Monet's home in Giverny)

Facts about the famous Japanese print

1. "The Great Wave" was created and printed between the years of 1829 and 1833. It was one of the primary prints of the "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" and is part of a collection of works.

2. The original title is "Under the Wave of Kanagawa".

3. Mount Fuji, is the focal point of the print. The dull tones around Mount Fuji suggest to the observer that the scene is taking place in the morning. As the sun ascends from behind the mountain, lighting up the cold summit of Japan's symbolic mountain.

5. The small boats¬†in the print are oshiokuri-bune; quick pontoons utilized by fishermen to ship fish from Izu and BŇćsŇć: the business sectors of the Tokyo Bay, once known as Edo Bay.

6. The mark of the Japanese printmaker can be found on the upper left-hand corner. 

7. It's estimated that somewhere in the range of 5,000 to 8,000 prints were made of "The Great Wave off Kanagawa".

8. "The Great Wave" was one of the numerous prints made by ukiyo-e printmakers to be offered to the growing Japanese working-class citizens.

9. "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" has influenced the western painting styles: including the idea of depth.

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1 comment

I have a special stamp from Japan called The Great Wave of Kanagawa mounted in a 24k gold folder obtained originally from Japan and wrapped beautifully in a special cardboard. I was wondering if you have any interest on it. Thank you

Enrique Fargas

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