VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Hokusai, selfportrait at the end of a letter
RMV 3513-1496
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

This letter he wrote to some of his publishers to accompany some of his earlier work, ‘Well then, the designs in this album were done when I was about forty-one or forty-two. Moreover, a few are duplicating each other. Some of them might, after all these years, better be worked out. The remainder can be seen as immature work from the past which you may smile about. Sincerely yours, the eighty-three year old Hachiemon.” The insight, or wisdom, that perfection comes with the years, paired with the self-portrait of a smiling old man, his eyes full of wit, but at the same time drawn in such a sure hand, qualifies this in all respects impromptu work as a great masterpiece. Prof. Matthi Forrer, curator Japanese arts, Leiden.

History of the Object
Born in 1760 in Edo, present-day Tokyo, Hokusai first aimed for a career as a designer of prints of kabuki actors in role. Later he shifted to commercial publishing to end his career as the foremost illustrator of popular novels. The works, which would give him world fame as one of the greatest artists of all eras – e.g. the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji– were created when he was in his seventies.

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Type
Drawing 
Materials
Paper; ink 
Measurements
Width 16,9 cm. Length 26,9 cm.  
Creator name
Katsushika Hokusai 
Creator date
1760-1849 
Where it was made
Japan 
Geography
Japan 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century 
Creation date
19th Century; 1842 
Function
letter 
Acquisition
Acquired by the museum in 1958. This letter/drawing was acquired by the Dutch collector Ferdinand Lieftinck (1879-1959), a tobacco merchant at Groningen, from the art dealer Felix Tikotin. Lieftinck had been a collector of Japanese art from the 1930s focusing on only the very best. In 1956 he offered his collection for sale to the State of the Netherlands and his collection of some 237 Japanese prints became the nucleus of the Japanese collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. At the time, his collection of more than 4,000 sketches and drawings was considered as of an ethnographic nature and landed in the Leiden National Museum of Ethnology. This letter/drawing was among this group. 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
State property, the Netherlands 
Museum
National Museum of Ethnology, Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde 
Credit line
National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, the Netherlands 

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