Katsushika Hokusai is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most versatile masters of the Japanese print. His art portrayed a diversity of themes with drama and realism. He was an incredibly productive and influential artist whose contribution to the development of the Japanese print cannot be understated.
Hokusai was born in a Suburb of Edo in 1760 to unknown parents. He was adopted at age three by Nakajime Ise, a mirror-maker. Hokusai began painting at the age of six. In 1772, he worked at the public library for a year but soon abandoned this position to pursue artistic avenues. In 1773, he apprenticed as an engraver and woodblock cutter. At eighteen years old, he became an apprentice to ukiyo-e master Shunro, and two years later he published his first pictures under the Shunro name.
In 1782, Hokusai's first self-illustrated book was published. Four years later, he left Shunro's studio to work with Yusen Hironobu. In the following years, he studied and was influenced by European painting.
In 1789, Hokusai received a number of commissions to illustrate books by Bakin and Kyoden; these were his first important works. By 1797, he had reached his artistic climax and had officially assumed the name Hokusai. Between 1798-1805, he produced a number of great portraits and color illustrations of women. After 1814, he began to publish his sketch books, which portrayed realistic scenes of Japanese life, mythology, animals and landscapes among other images.
The peak of Hokusai's career is also considered the high point of Japanese landscape art. This occurred in the late 1820s when he created the exceptional 36 Views of Mount Fuji and 100 Views of Fuji.
Although Hokusai is now considered one of the greatest Japanese woodblock printers, he spent his life in poverty. He changed his name twenty times, moved homes ninety-three times, was married twice and had a number of children. He was artistically prolific, creating at least thirty thousand pictures as well as illustrations for five hundred books.
Hokusai created his best work late in his seventies. His effect on the world of Japanese printing was profound. He raised landscape, flower and bird painting to independent genres. He is remembered for his bold use of color combinations, unusual perspectives and dramatic realism. He died in 1849.