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Learning from Van Gogh & Hokusai about 19th Century Art Great Wave

19th Century & Search for Indefinite, Infinite Impression 

Reconsidering Transcendence in Art

Presence or Absence of Learning from Van Gogh & Hokusai by Nataša Pantović

The late 1800s was the time of Impressionism as a radical art movement , centered around Parisian painters, the wave that rebelled against classical subject and gave respect to Mother Nature.

Travelling to their thought-form, Vincent van Gogh to the artist friend Emile:

“But now look, ... you surely can't seriously imagine a confinement like that, in the middle of the road, with the mother starting to pray instead of suckling her child? Those bloated frogs of priests on their knees as though they're having an epileptic fit are also part of it, God alone knows how and why!

No, I can't call that sound, for if I am at all capable of spiritual ecstasy, then I feel exalted in the face of truth, of what is possible, which means I bow down before the study - one that had enough power in it to make a Millet tremble - of peasants carrying a calf born in the fields back home to the farm.

That, my friend, is what people everywhere, from France to America, have felt. And having performed a feat like that, can you really contemplate reverting to medieval tapestries? Can that really be what you mean to do? No! You can do better than that, and know that you must look for what is possible, logical and true.”

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Emile Bernard, Saint-Rémy, 1889

“Now to enlighten you, my dear M. Van Gogh, ... I am searching for and at the same time expressing a general state of mind rather than a unique thought, to have someone else's eye experience an indefinite, infinite impression. To suggest a suffering does not indicate what kind of suffering: purity in general and not what kind of purity. Literature is one (painting also). Consequently, suggested and not explained thought.”

Letter from Paul Gauguin to Theo van Gogh. At this time, Vincent was 36 year old.

The two striking waves in Blue: 2 Great Waves - Hokusai 1883 & Van Gogh 1989

First seen outside Japan in the 1880s, Van Gogh's brother was one of the first Europeans to collect Japanese prints and has admired Japanese art. 

The Starry Night Vincent Van Gogh, 1889 & Japanese print Hokusai Great Wave 1833


Starry Night (1889), was created while Vincet was a patient at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole Asylum in France

“The artist always comes up against resistance from nature in the beginning, but if he really takes her seriously he will not be put off by that opposition, on the contrary, it is all the more incentive to win her over - at heart, nature and the honest draughtsman are as one.” Vincent Van Gogh to his brother” “The struggle with nature is sometimes a bit like what Shakespeare calls “the taming of the shrew””.

Vincent van Gogh Letter to Theo van Gogh, 1881 in Etten, At this time, Vincent was 28 year old. 

During the same period Vincet’s letter to his sister November 1889 about the Hospital environment

“At present I am working at a ward in the hospital. In the foreground a big black stove around which some grey and black forms of patients and then behind the very long ward paved in red with the two rows of white beds, the partitions white, but a lilac- or green-white, and the windows with pink curtains, with green curtains, and in the background two figures of nuns in black and white. The ceiling is violet with large beams. I have read an article on Dostoevsky, who has written a book Souvenirs de la maison des morts [Memories of the house of the dead], and this has driven me to resume a large study which I had started in the fever ward in Arles. But it is troublesome to do the figures without model.”

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to his sister Wilhelmina van Gogh, Saint-Rémy, October 1889. Vincent about the asylum environment, note: the nuns, the two rows of white beds, etc.

The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai 1883

A print of 'The Great Wave off Kanagawa', has broke the previous record for Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai selling at the auction of Japanese art at the price of $9.7 million.

Dated late 1833, part of a series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, one of the most iconic works of Japanese art is a woodcut depicting a huge breaking wave over three fishing boats, with Mount Fuji in the background. 

Houkusai's Great Wave and Japan

Katsushika Hokusai, (葛飾 北斎, 1760 –1849) known as Hokusai, was a Japanese artist, a child of an artisan family, born in Edo (now Tokyo). His childhood name was Tokitarō.

Hokusai was known by at least thirty names during his lifetime. In his career, he produced over 30,000 paintings, woodblock prints, sketches, and images for picture books.

At the age of 12, his father sent him to work in a bookshop, where reading books made from woodcut blocks was a popular entertainment. At 14, he worked as an apprentice to a woodcarver, until the age of 18, when he entered the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō.

After a year, Hokusai's name changed to Shunrō. It was under this name that he published his first prints, a series of pictures of kabuki actors and the images of courtesans published in 1779. During the decade he worked in Shunshō's studio, he was married twice and both wives have died. He fathered two sons and three daughters, and his youngest daughter Ei, also known as Ōi, eventually became an artist and his assistant.

Brithish Museum's curator Alfred Haft as he (literally) unpacks a selection of rare and recently rediscovered drawings by Japanese artist Hokusai, and explains what makes them so special! 

 The Great Picture Book

He was a popular artist, some of his projects include an enormous portrait of Daruma, sized 200 m2, using a broom and buckets of ink. Another story talks about Hokusai winning the competition, painting blue curve on paper, then chasing a chicken with feet dipped in red paint across the image.

Between 1804 and 1815 Hokusai has worked with the popular novelist Takizawa Bakin on a series of illustrated books. The collaboration resulted in thirteen books.

Hokusai also painted several albums of erotic art (shunga). His most famous image in this genre is The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife.

In 1811, at the age of 51, Hokusai changed his name to Taito and has created the Hokusai Manga, the art manuals.

In 1820, Hokusai changed his name to "Iitsu" and that is when he has created Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa.

In the summer of 1828, when the master was 68, he was afflicted with paralysis and living with his daughter and art student, O-ei.

In 1834, Hokusai worked under the name "Gakyō Rōjin" (画狂老人) "The Old Man Mad About Art" and has produced One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa Hokusai's most famous print the first in the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji 1830

Curiosity the image was made when Hokusai was in his early seventies. The Great Wave captures perfectly the moment before a huge wave crashes down onto the fragile boat beneath.

You might remember this image on the original score of Claude Debussy’s orchestral work “La Mer”

Debussy - La Mer - The great wave of Kanaga from Hokusai

Katsushika Oi, the daughter of Hokusai

Katsushika Oi, the daughter of Hokusai, some believe may be the real figure behind some of Hokusai’s most celebrated works.

Oi’s name - Oei, おい, is an equivalent of ‘hey you!’ a very informal even impolite way of addressing a person.

Oi was a master painter and his father said that she was superior in “paintings of beautiful women”.

Three Women Playing Musical Instruments is a great example of Oi’s work

Three Women Playing Musical Instruments (1818–1844=) – Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, collection

When Hokusai reached his old age, Oi worked closely alongside her father assisting him with an undisclosed number of his works. There are only around 10 images attributed to Oi specifically. Following her father’s death Oi vanished from public view. Tsuyuki Iitsu, a pupil of Hokusai's, described her as "having an eccentric personality like her father and a charitable disposition", she wished to become a female xian sage.

Ōi assisted Hokusai in his artwork and took to producing her own

Although they must have worked on many projects together, this is one of the only confirmed collaborative prints by this father-daughter collaboration. Oi painted the floral outside, and Hokusai the middle.

Print by Hokusai and Oi Katsushika Dragon

Scholars still argue about a catalogue raisonné of Hokusai, of all the woodblock prints, copperplates, and etchings, of the artist. The problems remain the number of works with signatures that can either be identified with Hokusai or with his pupils. At present, there are two museums in Japan devoted to this research.

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