The 19th century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai is most famous for his painting The Great Wave, an evocative scene of turbulent waters that manages to be both elegant and awe-inspiring. While that was his best-known work, it’s far from all that he accomplished over the course of his life — and his entire body of work showcases a staggeringly impressive range, from the naturalistic to the phantasmagorical.
Writing at Atlas Obscura, Claire Voon has the details of a significant find with respect to Hokusai’s work: 103 illustrations designed for a book which was never completed. They’ve now ended up in the collection of The British Museum, and their cumulative power is stunning.
The Atlas Obscura article offers a succinct summary of the drawings’ history. They were originally made for a book, to be titled Great Picture Book of Everything. The book was never completed, and the drawings passed from owner to owner for almost 100 years after Hokusai’s death in 1849.
In 1948, the drawings were auctioned off in Paris, and subsequently vanished from the art world’s radar for decades. Last year, they resurfaced, ultimately being sold to the British Museum.
Especially notable about the drawings is their subject matter. “Among the pictures are studies of quotidian life, from waterfowl to rice wine brewers, but also scenes of distant realms, including portraits of humans and deities from China, India, and Southeast Asia,” writes Voon. It’s a stunning display of what one artist was capable of, and you can see the whole thing online.
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