3 Cool Things You Might Not Know About Hokusai’s “Mount Fuji with Cherry Trees in Bloom”

Katsushika Hokusai. Japanese, 1760-1849. “Mount Fuji with Cherry Trees in Bloom.” Color woodblock print.

In honor of the centennial of Japan’s gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the United States and the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C., celebrate spring with Katsushika Hokusai’s “Mount Fuji with Cherry Trees in Bloom.” The print comes from a series depicting views of Mount Fuji; Hokusai’s most well-known print, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” comes from another series featuring the famous symbol of Japan.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life: Hokusai’s prints belong to the ukiyo-e style. Originally, “ukiyo” signified the Buddhist concept of a transitory life, but this dour outlook did not mesh well with the hedonistic culture of the Edo period in which Hokusai lived. The Japanese character for “transitory” was replaced with the character of a homonym meaning “floating,” and today we speak of the “floating world” which ukiyo-e prints immortalized, depicting the pleasurable entertainment of kabuki actors and courtesans.

2. Team Effort: Although printmasters such as Hokusai and his near-contemporary Ando Hiroshige achieved great fame, each ukiyo-e print was actually the result of a collaboration among four professionals: publisher, designer, engraver, and printer. And while Hokusai is famous for championing landscapes as ukiyo-e subject matter, it was actually the publisher who determined the theme of each print.

3. Under the Influence: When trade resumed between Japan and Western nations in 1853, artists in North America and Europe found themselves taken with Japan’s profoundly different aesthetic. An enthusiasm raged for all things Japanese, dubbed “Japonisme,” and James Whistler, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and other prominent painters incorporated Japanese influences into their paintings. Closer look: In the oil painting “Portrait of Père Tanguy” by van Gogh, another Hokusai print of Mount Fuji appears behind the straw hat of the sitter. Van Gogh described the Japanese aesthetic in a letter to his brother Theo as “as simple as breathing… they draw a figure from a few well chosen lines.”

Vincent van Gogh. Dutch, 1853-1890. “Portrait of Père Tanguy.” 1887-1888. Oil on canvas.

Sources:

  • Department of Asian Art. “Woodblock Prints in the Ukiyo-e Style”. InHeilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ukiy/hd_ukiy.htm (October 2003)
  • Department of Asian Art. “Art of the Pleasure Quarters and the Ukiyo-e Style”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/plea/hd_plea.htm (October 2004)
  • Phaidon Press. The Art Museum. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2011.
  • http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mount_Fuji_seen_throught_cherry_blossom.jpg
  • http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Van_Gogh_-_Portrait_of_Pere_Tanguy_1887-8.JPG