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Hokusai Exhibit at the Grand Palais

Katsushika Hokusai, Severed head, Private collection

In Paris a new exhibition of Edo-period prints by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) has opened at the Grand Palais, where it remains until January 18. The selection of artworks, by design, excludes shunga, the pornographic images common in the period, whose notoriety would have overshadowed the rest of the exhibit. About half of the works on display, 175 of 320, will be changed out when the exhibit is closed temporarily from November 21 to 30, meaning that those who visit both before and after those dates will be able to see more than 500 works in all, more than have ever been shown together in the West. An article by Harry Bellet for Le Monde (L’incomparable leçon de dessin d’Hokusai, October 5) has the details (my translation):
The paper does not tolerate light well, even though the light in the Grand Palais has been cleverly filtered by the lighting technician Philippe Collet. The exhibit directors claim that the new works will be "equivalent prints, often coming from the same series, and that the paintings on silk and paper will be replaced with works of comparable type and quality."

"Incomparable" is the right word: all you who draw, come here to take a lesson from Master Hokusai. In the history of this art, there are, to be brief, the Lascaux caves, Dürer, Holbein, Ingres, and him. The exhibit opens with some of his successors, the first of them and not the best ones: those who, in France, discovered his work following the reopening of Japan in 1858, which allowed the spread of the ukiyo-e prints, the "pictures of the floating world." Félix Bracquemond was at the origin of a long series, including some of the impressionists, and Degas, and Lautrec, and Van Gogh, and Bonnard... Wisely, this section is limited to one room, the first: this could be the subject of an entire exhibit.

The rest shows, in chronological order, the works from the artist's long life. Hokusai was born a half-dozen times. The first time, the real one, in 1760. He then had the name given him by his parents, Tokitaro. At 18, as a student in the workshop of Katsushawa Shunsho, he made his first prints under the name Shunro. With each change of style, a modification of his name. He was called Sori in 1794, when he worked in the style of the Rinpa school but gave that name to a student when he decided to go by Hokusai in 1798. He is known by at least three others later, including Gakyo Rojin Manji, or "Manji, the old man mad about painting." He was in his 70s at that point and died fifteen years later, in 1849, regretting not having made it to the age of 110, which he estimated was the last stage necessary to achieve the fullness of his art.
The image shown above, drawn by Hokusai between 1804 and 1818 on a fan with Chinese ink and tiny touches of color, may reveal the artist's awareness and absorption of European drawing techniques, because he creates a sense of volume through shading. See more images here.

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