Hokusai’s View of Delft

Or is it The Hague? From the rather typical buildings in Hokusai’s scheme of Western perspective that he includes in his Hokusai manga volume 3 of 1815, it is quite obvious that his original inspiration was some European optical print. From the 1730s, the Dutch introduced such prints, produced in London (most by Robert Sayer, Henry Overton, and Carington Bowles), Paris (Chéreau, Daumont, and Basset), and Augsburg (G.B. Probst), in quite large numbers in Japan, where they met with an eager audience. When they reached Edo, they helped Okumura Masanobu develop his so-called ‘perspective views,’ ukie 浮絵, of the interiors of the kabuki theatre and views of the main street of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters around 1739, and later also of other subjects. Although he himself always denied this, the young painter Maruyama Ōkyo 1733-1795 is believed to have made quite a number of Japanese views in this manner for some Kyoto merchant of toys who also sold the necessary apparatus to view these ‘perspective views’ best.

Katsushika Hokusai, The principle of Western perspective from the Hokusai manga, vol. 3 Nagoya: Eirakuya Tōshirō, 1815

I always imagined that Hokusai based his scheme of the Western principles of perspective on some Japanese print and figured that Utagawa Toyoharu’s Perspective view of a harbour in the Southeast of Holland, Ukie Oranda tōnan minato no zu (浮繪和蘭陀國東南港圖) would be the most likely example. Hokusai would then have viewed the Toyoharu print through a zograscope, the apparatus that we can also see in some Harunobu print (see the 2002 Chiba City Museum Harunobu exhibition catalogue, no. 134), which gives a mirrored image. He then used one of the buildings and just two of the trees. This would have sufficed for his immediate purpose of making a scheme that would just show the converging lines towards a vanishing point on the horizon, as is seen on the right-hand page.

Utagawa Toyoharu, Ukie Orandakoku tōnan no minato no zu Edo: Nishimuraya Yohachi, 1770s Courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum (2004,0505,0.1)

To the right in that diagram, he specifies that ’When you start here with a height of three inches’ (koko nite sansun no takasa ni kakan toki ha こゝにて三寸のたかさにか々んときは) to continue at the first line that ‘this is then one inch’ (koko nite issun nari こゝにて一寸也). He then goes on, from top down, explaining ‘The rule of dividing into three’ (mitsuwari no hō 三ツわりの法), which means that ‘You should make the sky two’ (futatsu wo ame to subeshi 二ツを天とすべし), and then ‘the earth becomes one’ (hitotsu wo chi to nasu nari 一ツを地となす也). And the earth is thus printed in grey, whereas the top two horizontal bands, making up the sky, are left blank.

On the left-hand page, Hokusai demonstrates how this would work, drawing a simple scene of a two-storey building, two trees, three figures, and a ship on the horizon. On the front of the house, he notes that ‘the windows are nine tenths’ (kyūbun no mado ha 九分のまどは), whereas they are only ‘three tenths’ (sanbun 三分) on the side, and by the trees he just adds the word ‘tree’ (ki 木). The set of converging lines to the left have the notes ‘what painting looks like’ (kaku no gotoshi かくのごとし) and ‘you should paint in accord with the lines’ (wari no suji ni awase kakubeshi わりのすじにあわせかくべし). Especially from the trees and the standing figures, it becomes clear that we see objects that are nearby larger than those more distant.

View of the Canal and the Municipal Cannon Foundry of The Hague

Then, apart from the circumstance that we do have some rivers but no harbours in the southeast of the country, the question, of course, remains what did Toyoharu take as his example. Until recently I imagined that he would have been familiar with the print of a View of the canal and the municipal cannon foundry of The Hague, Vue du Canal et de l’Hotel de Fonderie de canon a la Haye, published in Paris by Basset at the rue St Jacques à St Nicolas. Until 1660, cannons were founded at the Kloosterkerk, a church indeed, on the Mauritskade at The Hague and the canal was specifically made around 1580 so as to transport the cannons to other cities in the provinces of Holland and West Frisia. Later, the foundry was moved to a new and impressive building on the Nieuwe Uitleg, designed by Pieter Post (1608-1669), and that is the building in this print. But then, there is a rather wide sidewalk along the foundry and the other buildings further down, with quite some people on it, then the row of trees, and only then the canal. But Toyoharu’s print has water both to the right and to the left of the row of buildings. For Hokusai’s view this wouldn’t matter. For the sake of making a clear and directly understandable diagram, as said above, he just needs one building to the right, then the sidewalk with only three persons, and he reduces the row of trees to only two.

Isaac van Haastert, View of the Munition Depot of the City of Delft

Recently, I found some optical print with a View of the Munition Depot of the City of Delft, Vuë du Magazin de Munition de la Ville de Delft, designed by the Delft painter Isaac van Haastert (1753-1834) and made into a copperplate by Johann Jacob Stelzer (1706-1780), published by Georg Balthasar Probst (1732-1801) of Augsburg. As this has the water of the river Schie split into two and streaming on both sides of the central buildings, it seems more plausible to associate this view with the Toyoharu print. The ‘Munition Depot’ or Armamentarium, the building figuring conspicuously in the centre, dates from 1601 and still survives today, almost in its original form, with the Lange Geer seen to the right and the Oude Delft to the left—as it is, the printed image is not mirrored. Its location is near the Rotterdam and Schiedam city gates as well as nearby the former city timberyard for the Delfshaven harbour. The view incorporates an arched bridge in the distance and the tower of the old city hall, both surviving today, that we also can see somewhat adapted in the Toyoharu print.

The Armatarium now

So what did Hokusai see? If it was the Toyoharu print, he at least must have viewed it through a zograscope to get the building to the right and the trees to the left, and making the canal into a sidewalk. And the ‘harbour’ mentioned in the title would have inspired him to include a ship on the horizon. If it were the View of the canal and the municipal cannon foundry of The Hague, the sidewalk was there already and he must have viewed it through a zograscope to have the building to the right and the trees to the left. Moreover, he just focused on one building only and just two trees. And if he by chance had an opportunity to look at the print of the View of the Munition Depot of the City of Delft, again through his zograscope, the prominent position of the building would probably make this a more likely example to come to his composition that just served to illustrate the principles of Western perspective. Anyway, as for the Hokusai perspective diagram, it will remain a problem to definitively associate this with what its model was. For Toyoharu it seems most likely that it was the Delft view designed by Van Haastert. As for Hokusai, we cannot totally ignore the view of the The Hague foundry, but also the Delft view cannot be ruled out.

What remains is the group of South Sea Islanders in the lower half of this double-page composition. This is not merely a confirmation that we are here dealing with foreign subjects or influences, there is more to be said on them, but that has to wait for some next time.

When Hokusai’s Mount Fuji Became Second to None

As the advert for the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji appeared in the 1st Month of 1831 in Part 12 of Ryūtei Tanehiko’s 柳亭種彦 (1783-1842) Shōhon jitate『正本製』, it was indicated that what we now usually read as Fugaku 富嶽 should be read as ‘Fuji.’ It is now difficult to know whether this was meant to help the public that might have some problem with the reading of the less common character 嶽, or whether it was, indeed, Hokusai’s or the publisher’s idea that we should read the series-title 富嶽三十六景 as Fuji sanjūrokkei.

The problem – or the question at least – comes up again in 1834 when the first part of his One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji is published, where we similarly, and correctly, usually transcribe the title 富嶽百景 as Fugaku hyakkei. That this is correct can be inferred from the small leaflet that the publishers issued in the Autumn of 1833, announcing the forthcoming album 冨嶽百景 with the indication in furigana that this should be read as ふがくひやくけい, Fugaku hyakkei that is, by ’the Old Man Iitsu formerly Hokusai’ 前北斎為一老翁 to be transcribed as saki no Hokusai Iitsu rōō

The leaflet announcing the forthcoming publication of the Fugaku hyakkei, handed to potential buyers in late 1833

It cannot be doubted that Ryūtei Tanehiko in his preface to the Fugaku hyakkei Part 1 knew that Hokusai used the characters 不二, to be read as Fuji, but literally meaning ’not’ and ‘two,’ or ‘second to none,’ often also translated as ‘peerless,’ for each of the titles of his plates. Indeed, also Tanehiko refers to the mountain as Second to None.

Interestingly, Hokusai used this spelling of the mountain’s name also in the prints in the final instalment of his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series – the ten prints that all have a line-block printed in black from the start. These are Minobugawa ura Fuji 身延川裏不二; Tōkaidō Shinagawa Atagoyama no Fuji 東海道品川御殿山ノ不二; Senju kagai yori chōbō no Fuji 従千住花街眺望ノ不二; and Tōkaidō Kanaya no Fuji 東海道金谷ノ不二 . It would even seem that these five prints were the last five designs that he made, not only introducing the spelling of Fuji as Second to None, as in the Fugaku hyakkei volumes, but also indicating for the first time in the titles of the series, that it was the ‘Second-to-None Mountain’ seen from here, or seen there. Until then, the mountain was not mentioned in any of the preceding fourty-one print titles.

This also corroborates that the last instalment of the Fuji series coincides with Hokusai working on his One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji albums, in 1833 or 1834. 

Hokusai Autobiography or What did Hokusai expect his art to be like at age 86?

Nobody will ever forget these lines once you have read them. That artist who was confident that he would ‘at ninety have got even closer to the essence of art, and at the age of one hundred I will reach a magnificent level, and at a hundred and ten, each dot and each line will be alive.’ Unforgettable words written by the 75 years old Katsushika Hokusai in his One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, Fugaku hyakkei, coming out in the third month of 1834.

Personally I consider these three-volumes Hokusai’s greatest in the category of books that he largely composed himself. Judging from its popularity among the early Parisian collectors, they too considered it an absolute must for any collector of Japanese art – it ranks first when making an inventory of all those wonderful early twentieth century Parisian auction catalogues (and in case you wonder, the Bunpō gafu volumes rank second, Sukenobu’s Hyakunin jorō shinasadame third, the Hokusai manga volumes fourth, and Kitao Shigemasa’s Seirō bijin awase sugata kagami fifth). It can thus hardly come as a surprise that the short autobiography from the Fugaku hyakkei was translated into French as early as in 1883 in Louis Gonse’s l’Art japonais (Vol 1, pp 286f). The text, just slightly adapted by Edmond de Goncourt – with the assistance of Hayashi Tadamasa? – would then reach an even larger audience as it was cited in his Hokousaï of 1896 (p. 261):

Depuis l’âge de six ans, j’avais la manie de dessiner la forme des objets. Vers l’âge de cinquante ans, j’avais publié une infinité de dessins, mais tout ce que j’ai produit avant l’âge de soixante-dix ans, ne vaut pas la peine d’être compté. C’est à l’âge de soixante-treize ans, que j’ai compris à peu près la structure de la nature vraie, des animaux, des herbes, des arbres, des oiseaux, des poisons et des insects.

Par conséquent, à l’âge de quatre-vingts ans, j’aurai fait encore plus de progrès; à quatre-vingt-dix ans je pénétrerai le mystère des choses; à cent ans je serai décidément parvenu à un degré de merveille, et quand j’aurai cent dix ans, chez moi, soit un point, soit une ligne, tout sera vivant;

Je demande à ceux qui vivront autant que moi, de voir si je tiens ma parole. Écrit à l’âge de soixante-quinze ans par moi, autrefois Hokousaï, aujourd’hui Gwakiô Rôjin, le vieillard fou de dessin.

The text in the second column from the right as it appears in the colophon sheet of the One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden

My own most recent translation reads:

From the age of six I had already been drawing all kinds of things. Although I had really made many designs from the time I was fifty [1809], none of my works until my seventieth [1829] is really worth counting. It was only from the age of seventy-three [1832] that I have finally understood the true forms of animals, insects and fish, and the nature of plants and trees. Consequently, I will have made more and more progress by the age of eighty [1839], and at ninety [1849 – the year Hokusai died] I will have got even closer to the essence of art. At the age of one hundred I will reach a magnificent level, and at a hundred and ten each dot and each line will be alive. I would like to ask those who outlive me to see whether I have not spoken idly. Gakyōrōjin Manji

… actually, I am cheating a little, I should admit, this translation still had the mistaken ‘age of eighty-six’ [1845] instead of the correct ‘age of eighty’ – and that is the subject here. It was only quite recently that I discovered this widespread mistake when I first compared one of the many transcriptions of this text in Japanese handbooks with the original.

This cannot, of course, be an excuse, but like many of my colleagues, I only made my translations (see below) using very reliable sources, such as Suzuki Jūzō’s Fugaku hyakkei (Tokyo: Iwasaki Bijutsusha, 1972, p 189f, reprinted in 1986; his essay also reprinted in his Ehon to ukiyoe (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha, 1979, p 311), or Oka Isaburō in the Hokusai volume in the Ukiyoe Taikei series (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1975, p 88), or Nagata Seiji in the Hokusai volume in the Ukiyoe hakka series (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1984, p 137), or his Katsushika Hokusai nenpu (Tokyo: Sansai Shinsha, 1985, p 117), or even his revised Katsushika Hokusai nenpu in the Hokusai kenkyū magazine, no. 22, 1997, p 148 – all, most reliable sources as you would agree, I guess. And they all make the same mistake of reading ‘eighty-six’ instead of ‘eighty years.’

I still don’t know who did it, could it really have been Suzuki sensei (is this a case of even Homer nods?) who decided to transcribe the text himself, rather than copy it from Narazaki Muneshige who had already in 1944 provided a perfect transcription in his Hokusai ron (Tokyo:  Atoriesha, 1944, p 6) or even go back to Iijima’s Katsushika Hokusai den of 1893 (Vol 1 p 52b)? Anyway, apart from Willem van Gulik (1982 and 2020), Gian Carlo Calza (2003), and myself (1988, 1991, and 2018), it were mostly Japanese writers, such as Oka Isaburō (1975), Nagata Seiji (1984, 1985, 1997, and 2005), Sakai Gankow (1993), Kōno Motoaki (1996), and Asano Shūgō (ironically in his Hokusai ketteiban, or Hokusai The Final Edition of 2010, p 177), who fell victim to this slight but very meaningful mis-transcription. What seems to have happened is that someone in transcribing the text initially read 八十六 for 八十才 (see above in the text in the picture, at the same height as the 狂 of the signature 画狂老人卍) then quickly corrected the 六 into 才, and then left both, to make the 八十六才 ‘age of eighty-six’ that from then started to corrupt this highly personal observation on his art by the artist himself.

The correct transcription of the text by Nagata Seiji, as he came to realize his earlier mistakes in 2008, in Hokusai kenkyu 42

I will continue my search for the original source of the mistake and keep updating, no final edition here. Anyway, if you have any of the books or catalogues giving ‘the age of eighty-six’ please cross out the ‘six’ or rather: paint it black.

Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa – Hokusai and Aizurie Part V

Summarizing the conclusions reached in the four preceding parts, we can give a date of 1830 or Tenpō 1 (天保元年) to the so far identified subjects of Nihonbashi (日本橋), Ōji (王子), Sumidagawa (隅田川), Fukagawa (深川), Shibaura (芝浦), Ōhashi (大橋), Mimeguri (三園), Ueno no hana (上野花), and Yanaka (谷中), all picture envelopes, efūto (繪封筒), measuring 191 x 51 mm., signed Hokusai changing his name to Iitsu (Hokusai aratame Iitsu 北斎改為一), forming part of the series A Hundred Views in the Eastern Capital (Tōto hyakkei 東都百景), published as prints in tones of blue, aizurie, by an unidentified publisher using a seal reading ‘to’ (ト) within a circle. 

Cormorant Fisherman at Kajikazawa in Kai Province, from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, 1831
Courtesy Mann Collection

Dating from the same year 1830 are the prints titled Suruga Hill in the Eastern Capital (Tōto Surugadai 東都駿河台), Under the Mannen Bridge in Fukagawa (Fukagawa Mannenbashi no shita 深川万年橋下), The Oval Pine at Aoyama (Aoyama Enza no matsu 青山圓座松), Senjū in Musashi Province (Bushū Senjū 武州千住), In the Hollow of a Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa, popularly known as ‘The Great Wave’ (Kanagawa oki namiura 神奈川沖浪裏), A Shower below the Summit (Sanka hakuu 山下白雨), South Wind at Clear Dawn (Gaifū kaisei 凱風快晴), The ‘Fuji-Viewing’ Plains in Owari Province (Bishū Fujimigahara 尾州富士見原), and The Inume Mountain Pass in Kai Province (Kōshū Inumetōge 甲州犬目峠), all full colour horizontal prints in the ōban format (265 x 390 mm.), signed Hokusai changing his name to Iitsu (Hokusai aratame Iitsu 北斎改為一), forming part of the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei 富嶽三十六景), published by Nishimuraya Yohachi.

Dating from 1831 or Tenpō 2 (天保二年) are ten prints depicting A man washing potatoes in a tub; Mōsō finding a fresh bamboo shoot in the snow; Boats passing under rocky cliffs with a moon in the sky; A Mountain landscape with a bridge across a waterfall; Two fish: a halfbeak and a bream, and a crayfish; Two fish: a sole and a kasago, and two ark shell; Three sparrows and morning glory; A Sparrow trying to catch a fly; Plovers flying over waves, and A Finch on a Hibiscus, all in the koban format (c.227 x 168 mm.) and printed in shades of blue, aizurie, signed the Former Hokusai (saki no Hokusai 前北斎), with various seals among which one that gives Hokusai’s age as 72 years, corresponding to 1831, and published by Moriya Jihei.

Also dating from 1831 are prints of A pilgrim standing on the back of another one and writing on a pillar; Two men working on the covering of a roof with roof tiles; Ebisu catching fish from a boat; A Woman rope-walking and juggling balls; Two men making a large wooden tub; Acrobat performance; A Monk sweeping maple leaves; A Man seated by a tsuitate and chanting from a book; Bushishi on a scroll; A Sparrow by a chestnut; A Woman washing a length of cloth in a stream; A shōjō eating rice cakes and not drinking; Farmers doing the sparrow-dance; and A Shishi lion in a waterfall, all in the narrow upright tanzaku format (c.350 x 67 mm.) and printed in full colour, the first two signed the Former Hokusai (saki no Hokusai 前北斎), the others signed Iitsu, the former Hokusai (saki no Hokusai Iitsu 前北斎為一), published by Moriya Jihei. As these were printed three at a time from an aiban block, there remains at least one more design to be identified.

Dating from the same year 1831 are three prints depicting A tenaga and an ashinaga; A Deer and the full moon; and A Waterfall, in the narrow upright tanzaku format (c.350 x 67 mm.) and printed in shades of blue, aizurie, signed Iitsu, the former Hokusai (saki no Hokusai Iitsu ), published by Moriya Jihei. We cannot know whether these represent a different group or whether they are just an incidental exception within the group of full-colour tanzaku prints mentioned above. 

Still dating from 1831 are ten prints titled The Honganji Temple at Asakusa in the Eastern Capital (Tōto Asakusa Honganji 東都浅草本願寺), Tsukudajima Island in Musashi Province (Buyō Tsukudajima 武揚佃島), Ushibori in Hitachi Province (Jōshū Ushibori 常州牛堀), The Coast at Shichirigahama in Sagami Province (Sōshū Shichirigahama 相洲七里浜), Left of (or: In the Outskirts of) Umezawa in Sagami Province (Sōshū Umezawa no hidari [or: zai] 相洲梅澤左 [or: 在]), Mishimagoe in Kai Province (Kōshū Mishimagoe 甲州三島越), Ejiri in Suruga Province (Sunshū Ejiri 駿州江尻), In the Tōtōmi Mountains (Tōtōmi sanchū 遠江山中), Lake Suwa in Shinano Province (Shinshū Suwako 信州諏訪湖), and Kajikazawa in Kai Province (Kōshū Kajikazawa 甲州石班澤), all horizontal prints in the ōban format (265 x 390 mm.) and printed in shades of blue, aizurie, signed Iitsu, the former Hokusai (saki no Hokusai Iitsu 前北斎為一), forming part of the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei 富嶽三十六景), published by Nishimuraya Yohachi. These are the prints that the publisher Nishimuraya Yohachi announced in I/1831 at the end of the Tanehiko novel. The remaining twenty-six designs in the Fuji series were probably published subsequently, from 1832. Anyway, we now know that the ‘Great Wave’ dates from the year 1830, and that is what we wanted to find out to begin with.

Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa – Hokusai and Aizurie Part IV

In the foregoing parts we have been investigating four series or groups of prints, two of them comprised of aizurie prints exclusively and two other groups with only a part printed as aizurie. In these four groups, we found three different phrasings of Hokusai’s signature, as follows: Hokusai aratame Iitsu (Hokusai changing his name to Iitsu 北斎改為一) on ten prints of the series of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and on all of the so far identified nine envelopes from the series titled A Hundred Views of the Eastern Capital. Then there is the signature Saki no Hokusai (the former Hokusai 前の北斎) on all of the prints in blue from an untitled series in the koban format, and on two (of three?) prints from the untitled series in the tanzakuban format. And lastly the signature Saki no Hokusai Iitsu (Iitsu, the former Hokusai 前の北斎為一) to be found on ten aizurie and twenty-six full colour prints of the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series, as well as on the three aizurie and on another twelve full colour prints in the group of tanzaku prints.

A View of Tsukudajima Island from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, 1831
Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

If we then try to bring some order in these findings, we must agree that a signature stating that ‘Hokusai is changing his name to Iitsu’ (Hokusai aratame Iitsu), obviously predates signatures such as ‘the former Hokusai’ (saki no Hokusai) and ‘Iitsu, the former Hokusai’ (saki no Hokusai Iitsu). We are then fortunate to have a date for the use of the signature of the ‘former Hokusai’ on one of the ten koban aizurie prints, in the form of a seal reading ‘old man of 72 years’ (nanajūni-ō), Hokusai’s age corresponding to the year 1831. It is then tempting to also date the two tanzaku prints with the same signature to the same year 1831.

As for works bearing the signature ‘Iitsu, the former Hokusai,’ we have at least the indication that the ten aizurie prints in the Fuji series were being announced as ‘single sheet prints in blues, each featuring one view and to be issued one after the other’ in the I/1831 announcement issued by the publisher Nishimuraya Yohachi. We may thus safely assume that at least the ten aizurie prints in that series can be dated to 1831. And the seal on one of the aizurie prints indicating Hokusai’s age to be 72 years, mentioned above, just confirms that aizurie printing was being practiced in 1831. This date can thus also safely be given to the three aizurie tanzaku prints signed ‘Iitsu, the former Hokusai’ as well as to the remaining twelve full colour prints in that group which were most likely published in the same year. As for the Fuji series, this was, as a much larger enterprise and still something of an experiment at the time when there was no tradition of larger series of landscape prints yet, probably issued over a period of several years.

What then remains is the series of luxury envelopes issued as aizurie and signed ‘Hokusai changing his name to Iitsu,’ and the ten prints in the Fuji series with the same signature. For the moment, we can conclude that these must date from ‘before 1831.’ Yet, we may assume that Nishimuraya waited to announce that the prints in the Fuji series would be printed in tones of blue until he was sufficiently confident that the first group of ten prints sold well. At least well enough to take the risk of issuing the remainder of the series in the newly available but still costly non-fugitive blue pigment, publishing prints was after all a completely commercial enterprise. Most likely, I would say, this means that a first group of Fuji prints had been issued some time in 1830 and needed already to be reprinted several times as demand proved to be lasting.

Just to corroborate or contradict these findings, let us have a look at Hokusai’s signatures around this period: He signed a painting of a seller of New Year’s charms (British Museum Collection) ‘Hokusai Iitsu’ in I/1827; he signed the novel Shinpen Suikogaden Part 2a Hokusai Taito in I/1829 and in the same month, his Chūgi Suikoden ehon was signed Katsushika saki no Hokusai Iitsu – and we must remember that Hokusai often used different signatures for different audiences, and these are a painting, a popular novel, and a picture book respectively. In III/1830, he signed a surimono print of two women gathering salt water by the seaside ‘Hokusai aratame Iitsu,’ or ‘Hokusai changing his name to Iitsu.’

I couldn’t find, so far, any other examples of the signature ‘the former Hokusai,’ but we do see the signature ‘Iitsu, the former Hokusai’ from 1831: it is used in two announcements in I/1831, the one concerning the sequel of the Fuji series of prints, the other one for a novel in eight volumes written by Ryūtei Tanehiko (not yet identified), and again in III/1831 in the 1-volume poetry collection Onna ichidai eigashū, as well as later also, in 1832, 1833 and so on. I am real glad we are here now, and I promise to make a clean and clear chronology soon, to appear in the next part of this series of notes that was concerned with the date of the Great Wave to begin with.

Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa – Hokusai and Aizurie Part III

As far as I know, there are only three more examples of aizuri prints by Hokusai that need to be considered, and then we can try and see whether we can reach a conclusion on our original question: What is the date of the so-called Great Wave? This time we will focus on a group of some seventeen or more prints in the narrow upright tanzaku format, measuring 350 x 68 mm. Like the group of koban prints discussed earlier, in Part II, they were published by Moriya Jihei. With two exceptions, they are signed Saki no Hokusai Iitsu hitsu (two are signed Saki no Hokusai ga), and with three exceptions they are all normal full colour prints, nishikie, three being printed in tones of blue only, the aizurie that we are specifically interested in. Moreover, except five, they can all be found in the collection of the Berlin Museum of East Asian Art, being listed in Steffi Schmidt’s 1971 catalogue as nos. 600-610.

Nagata lists thirteen of them on pp. 215f. of his Hokusai nenpu and incorporated ten in his 2005 Hokusai exhibition in the Tokyo National Museum, as follows: 1 – A tenaga and an ashinaga – aizurie (Achenbach Foundation); 2 – Ebisu catching fish from a boat (Berlin 608; TNM exhibition 271); 3 – A pilgrim standing on the back of another one and writing on a pillar, signed Saki no Hokusai (Berlin 609; TNM 269; British Museum; Pushkin); 4 – Woman rope-walking and juggling balls (Berlin 606; TNM 264); 5 – Two men making a large wooden tub (Berlin 607; TNM 270); 6 – Two men working on the covering of a roof with rooftiles, signed Saki no Hokusai (Berlin 610; TNM 263); 7 – Deer and full moon – aizurie (Berlin 601; TNM 272); 8 – Acrobat performance (Berlin 605; TNM 268); 9 – Monk sweeping maple leaves (Berlin 602; TNM 265; British Museum); 10 – Man seated by a tsuitate and chanting from a book (Berlin 604; TNM 267; Hokusai updated, 2019, 376 Nagata Collection); 11 – Bushishi on a scroll (Berlin 603; TNM 266); 12 – Sparrow by chestnut (Berlin); 13 – Woman washing a length of cloth in a stream (British Museum).

Shishi in a waterfall

Not listed in Nagata 1985 are four more, such as 14 – Waterfall – aizurie (Berlin 600); 15 – A shōjō eating rice cakes and not drinking (Hokusai updated, 2019, 376 Nagata Collection); 16 – Farmers doing the sparrow-dance (Hokusai updated, 2019, 377 Nagata Collection); and 17 – Shishi in a waterfall (PC). But totalling seventeen, while they were no doubt printed three from an aiban block, means that there must at least be one more still to surface. But we have at least three aizurie: the tenaga and ashinaga (no. 1), the deer and the full autumn moon (no. 7), and the waterfall (no. 14), all of these signed Saki no Hokusai Iitsu.

Summarizing all the aizurie prints we so far could identify, we are considering ten prints from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series, all signed Saki no Hokusai Iitsu and published by Nishimuraya Yohachi; ten koban prints of various subjects from an untitled group, all signed Saki no Hokusai and published by Moriya Jihei; nine envelopes from a series titled One Hundred Views of the Eastern Capital, Tōto hyakkei, signed Hokusai aratame Iitsu and issued by an unidentified publisher; and three prints in the tanzaku format from an untitled group of so far seventeen identified prints, signed Saki no Hokusai Iitsu, and published by Moriya Jihei.

With three different signatures on four groups of prints, I really hope to find the time one of these days to see whether we can come up with a plausible dating for the Great Wave. (And honestly, I only write all of this to just find answers to questions, just checking once again in view of what I know today, but I don’t have the answer to begin with.)

Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa – Hokusai and Aizurie Part II

As for prints in various tones of blue exclusively, so-called aizurie, a series of probably ten prints issued by the publisher Moriya Jihei is probably the best example. It was issued without any series or print titles, and was comprised of figures, landscapes, and subjects from nature. They are small format koban prints, roughly measuring 227 x 168 mm, as correctly identified in Forrer 1974:127 (however, Steffi Schmidt in her 1971 catalogue [nos 593-99] of the Berlin collection identifies the prints as chūban, giving measurements ranging from 221 to 295 mm height x 164 to 168 width, a quite unlikely variation between prints from the same series, but also the Boston Museum of Fine Arts identifies the prints as chūban in its database, as does Yasuda in his 1971 monograph [p 140], as does Nagata in both his 1985 Nenpu [p 194], and in his 2005 Hokusai exhibition catalogue [cat 343-51]).

Their subjects are A man washing potatoes in a tub; Mōsō finding a fresh bamboo shoot in the snow; Boats passing under rocky cliffs with a moon in the sky; A mountainous landscape with a bridge across a waterfall; Two fish: a halfbeak and a bream, and a crayfish; Two fish: a sole and a kasago, and two ark shell (akagai); Three sparrows and morning glory; A sparrow trying to catch a fly; Plovers flying over waves. That is nine in all, suggesting that there is at least one more design missing, as such small format prints would at least be printed two from an aiban format block. Just found the missing one: A Finch on a hibiscus (MFA 21.10230).*

Indeed, in the 2005 Tokyo National Museum catalogue, the print of three sparrows by a morning glory (350) has been cut so carelessly that it still shows the line where the two prints should have been separated, and even part of the kiwame censorship seal and of the publisher’s mark of Moriya of the other print – so we can know that it was printed together with the design of plovers and waves. As I long ago also possessed myself an uncut sheet from the series, I know that also the designs of two fish and a crayfish and of the man washing potatoes were printed together from the same block.

All of the prints in this series have the signature Saki no Hokusai hitsu (前北斎筆), or “Brush of the Former Hokusai,” combined with various seals. Of these seals, just one is of special interest, reading “Old Man of 72” (Nanajūni-ō), so we can date this series to the year 1831.

A second series of aizurie prints, or rather “printed matter,” is titled A Hundred Views in the Eastern Capital (Tōto hyakkei). As said, they are not exactly prints, but rather printed matter in the format of envelopes to be used for sending notes and brief letters in a nice wrapper, rather than, as was the common practice, just writing the name of the addressee somewhere so the postman could see it. They measure 191 x 51 mm and were published by an unidentified publisher, otherwise known for fans designed by Katsukawa Shunei, Utagawa Kuniyasu, and by Hiroshige.

Cherry Blossoms at Ueno
Yanaka, in between Ueno and Hongo Heights, Private collection, The Netherlands
Nihonbashi from the Art Institute of Chicago Collection
Art Institute of Chicago Collection

At present, we know of nine surviving examples of these envelopes, picturing Nihonbashi, Sumidagawa, Ōhashi, Mimeguri, Ōji, Fukagawa, Shibaura, Yanaka, and Blossoms at Ueno, Ueno no hana. They are signed Hokusai aratame Iitsu ga. Narazaki in his 1944 Hokusai ron (p 374) was probably the first to record the Ōji and Sumida River subjects of this group which he saw in the Miyake Hikojirō collection. Later, Nagata in his 1985 Nenpu would identify the above mentioned nine subjects, all but the Ōji subject in the collection of the National Diet Library. The Nihonbashi envelope is also preserved in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Shibaura envelope is also preserved in the collection of the Library of Congress, Washington, and the Ueno and Yanaka envelopes are also held in Dutch private collections. Surprisingly, these somewhat luxury ephemera – and that is probably why so few have survived – are the earliest examples of Hokusai working in the aizurie technique, signing his works with the signature Hokusai aratame Iitsu ga. Indeed, it is remarkable that a publisher of such ephemera would make use of the new indigo pigment earlier than his colleagues catering to buyers of prints … to be continued.

*I had wanted to include a picture of one of these prints, but searching the online database of the Ostasiatisches Museum Berlin – that owns seven of these prints, the search for ‘Hokusai’ only yields three Hiroshige prints, two different Hokusai prints, and one Hokkei surimono — or am I doing something stupid?

Hokusai’s Wave off Kanagawa – Hokusai and Aizurie – Part I

Quite surprisingly, we can still find various datings for one of the world’s most iconic images, the Great Wave as it is popularly called, actually titled In the Hollow of the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki namiura), one of the prints in Hokusai’s series of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei).

In earlier literature, this series was usually dated to the 1820s (e.g. Goncourt 1896, p. 162: 1823-29; Holmes 1900, p. 23: 1823-29; Perzynski 1904, p. 76: 1823-29; Binyon & Sexton 1923, p.138: 1825-32; Focillon 1925, p.90: 1823-29; Hillier 1955, p. 60: 1823-29). This dating was based on a misinterpretation of an announcement of – among others – Eight Appearances of Mount Fuji (Fugaku hattai) at the end of his model book for combs and pipes, the Imayō kushi kiseru hinagata, indeed published in V/1823. Indeed, the text of this announcement – “Eight aspects of Mt. Fuji. The four seasons, Weather clear and rainy, Wind-snow-mist, Duly following the sublime creations of heaven: All the variations of scenic beauty caught on the artist’s brush-tip” (here cited after Lane 1989, p. 184) – would perfectly suit the Fuji series – and it might well represent the artist’s first ideas for the Fuji series.

However, in 1944, Narazaki Muneshige would in his Hokusai ron (p. 378) be the first to identify a true announcement of the Fuji series of prints, at the back of part 12 of the popular novel Shōhon jitate by Ryūtei Tanehiko, illustrated by Utagawa Kunisada and published in I/1831.

In this advertisement, the publisher Nishimuraya Yohachi announces “The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, drawn by the Old Man Iitsu, formerly known as Hokusai: Single sheet prints in blues [that is so-called aizurie] each featuring one view and to be issued one after the other. These prints show how the shape of Mount Fuji is different when seen from various locations, such as from the coast of Shichirigahama, or more distantly from the Island of Tsukudajima, and so on. On the whole they are of use to those wishing to learn and paint remarkable landscapes. The blocks being cut and printed successively, they may well amount to more than a hundred, and so not restricted to thirty-six plates only.”

Ever since, and especially after Suzuki Jūzō had published an overview of the subsequent Nishimuraya advertisements for Hokusai’s various landscape series, the dating of the series came to be revised to the 1830s (Forrer 1974, p. 87: 1826-33; Kobayashi 1976, pp. 61f.: 1831-33; Forrer 1988, p. 264: 1831-33; Lane 1989, p. 184: 1830-32; Forrer 1991, cat. 11: 1830-35; Forrer 2010, p. 183: 1830-34; Asano 2010, p. 4: 1830-34; Thompson 2015, cat. 20-23: c.1830-31; Sumida Hokusai Museum 2016, cat. 61: c.1831; Clark 2017, p. 108: 1831-33).

So, even though we may all agree that Nishimuraya announces the Fuji series to be published as “prints in tones of blue” (aizurie) in I/1831, we cannot, it seems, agree upon either the date when the first prints were launched (is it 1830 or 1831?), or when the series was completed (1832, 1833, 1834, or 1835). In the Fuji series, we know of ten designs issued in tones of blue, as aizurie. Moreover, we know of some more aizurie by Hokusai, issued by different publishers. It may be good to first have a closer look at these novelties, that is what aizurie were considered at the time — to be continued (I just hope this may help you with better information than Wikipedia that says of the Great Wave: It was published sometime between 1829 and 1833 in the late Edo period as the first print in Hokusai’s series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji)

Kobayashi 1976
(Ukiyoe Taikei 13)
Forrer 1988
Lane 1989
Forrer 1991
Asano 2010
 Forrer 2010
Thompson 2014
Clark 2017