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Old Tiger in the Snow

Artist: Katsushika Hokusai
Created: 1849
Format: Scroll

Old Tiger in the Snow

While Katsushika Hokusai was notably famed for his series of woodblock prints, “Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji”, this hanging scroll titled ‘Old Tiger in the Snow’ is no less deserving of praise. It was created in 1849, just before his death that same year. 

The atmosphere of the image is one of mysticism as it subtly expresses the power of spirituality. An old, pallid tiger, its body curved and sleek, pounces upwards with its head held high. Many have deemed the figure to be symbolic of Hokusai leaving this world to enter the afterlife. The intricacies of the tiger’s pattern amplify its muscular physique. Branches of bamboo trees hanging before him are laden in snow except for the dark ends which perfectly mimic the tiger’s sharp claws. The animal grins as though he is extremely pleased with his situation and snowy surroundings.

The Artist and his Work

Katsushika Hokusai was born in the Katsushika district of Edo, Japan (now known as Tokyo) though his exact date of birth is unknown. It is said that he was born on the 23rd day of the 9th month of the 10th year of the Hōreki era (old calendar) which would be October 31st, 1760. Although his fame dwindled in his later years due to the emergence of young, talented artists such as Ando Hiroshige, Hokusai continued to paint out of passion and a determination to always create better works, one of which being ‘Old Tiger in the Snow’. It is rumoured that on his deathbed he stated: “If only Heaven will give me just another ten years... Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.”

One could surmise that the modest Hokusai lacked conviction regarding his talent and creative ability.  He once said: “I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature.” – Katsushika Hokusai

Interesting Facts

The use of multiple names throughout a Japanese artist’s lifetime was common practice, and Katsushika Hokusai was known by at least 30 different names. This number far exceeds that of any other major artist. Hokusai changed his name so frequently (each one typically relating to his creative style) that the custom made it useful for art historians to differentiate the artistic periods of his life.


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