FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week, we feature the graphically arresting Red Fuji by renowned Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai. A well-known Japanese saying suggests that you would be a fool not to climb Mount Fuji once, but a fool to do so twice. Since it is currently not on view, you would be a fool not to enjoy this virtual viewing of Mount Fuji!
For as long as humans have inhabited its surrounding areas, Mount Fuji has been regarded as a sacred entity, the very embodiment of nature’s divine spirit. Pilgrims, poets and artists have all been drawn to the site, and by Hokusai’s time Fujiko (Fuji-worship) was practiced widely. The mountain is an active volcano, although it hasn’t erupted since 1708. Nearly perfect in its conical symmetry, Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan (12,389 feet) and on clear days is visible from Tokyo.
Red Fuji was included in Hokusai’s seminal work Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. When first published, this series revolutionized Japanese printmaking with its large-scale representation of landscape and its abundant use of Prussian blue, a European pigment that had only recently been introduced into Japan. In this daringly simple design, Hokusai created his Red Fuji using only four colors: the red of the mountain, the blue of the sky, the green of the trees at the base of the mountain and the white of the clouds and snow.
Tremendously popular in the West, works from this series have been widely collected by artists, print enthusiasts and museums. Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (among other Japanese prints) also proved enormously influential to the Impressionist movement that would revolutionize the European art world in a few short decades. Henri Rivière's series Thirty-Six Views of the Effel Tower, directly reflects the influence of the Japanese master translated into a definitively western subject.
Hokusai worked in a variety of styles throughout his career and was known by at least thirty different names during his lifetime, many of which coincide with the specific style in which he was working at the time. He was attracted to multiple artistic influences, and even flirted briefly with Western art. Perhaps best known for his views of Mount Fuji, Hokusai is also credited with reviving the waning grandeur of the ukiyo-e print, a genre of Japanese woodblock prints or woodcuts and paintings produced between the 17th and the 19th centuries.