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Woodblock print: The Great Wave
E.4823-1916
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

In this superb print, often simply referred to as ‘The Great Wave’, Mount Fuji can be seen in the distance in this famous print, almost dwarfed by the enormous wave. The wave dominates the image, almost obscuring the boats to which the sailors are clinging. Through the use of the dramatic differences in scale in this print, Hokusai contrasts the majesty of nature with the powerlessness of mankind. Mount Fuji was a popular pilgrimage destination in the Edo period, and was a familiar subject for painters and printmakers. More than any other Japanese print, this print astounded artists in Europe at the close of the 19th century. Debussy is said to have used it as the inspiration for his orchestral piece, La Mer, and Rilker for the verse series Der Berg. This image has become an almost iconic symbol of Japan and is today widely reproduced, copied or reinterpreted in many other forms.

History of the Object
Colour print from wood blocks by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, Japanese, c.1823-1829. In the hollow of a wave off the coast at Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura). This much-reproduced image is one of the great icons of Japan but it always retains a powerful sense of nature. Woodblock prints were often regarded as ephemeral but this version of the print (of which there are many, often later reprints) is an original of superb quality.

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Type
Print 
Materials
Paper and ink 
Measurements
Width 37.2cm Height 25.9cm  
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; c.1823-1829 
Function
 
Acquisition
Alexander gift. William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) was a wealthy banker and keen collector of many forms of art. On his death, his daughters, known as the 'Misses Alexander' generously gave a substantial part of his Japanese collection to the V&A Museum. 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Credit line
© V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

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