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The great wave of Kanagawa, a Hokusai masterpiece.

The great wave of Kanagawa is a masterpiece in japanese Ukyoe art, in art in general and particularly in Japan. Contrary to most famous painter in Western countries, such Van Gogh, Hokusai was very famous in his living time. Numerous biographies surrounds his life, and an animation movie introduced his daughter’s life explaining what it was to be the progeny of the master of Ukyoe.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa (or The Great Wave) is a woodblock print. Hokusai published it between 1829 and 1833 in his series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. This series of landscape depicts the mount from different locations and in various seasons and weather conditions. It is his most famous work and one of the most celebrated piece of Japanese art in the world.

It is also one of the most reproduced and recognized artwork in the world thanks to the Meji Restoration in 1868. Japan became open to imports from the west and many pieces of art came to Europe and America. It influenced many western artists and helped them to better understand Japanese art. This is more true for a lot of western impressionists such as Manet, Monet, Van Gogh and “Art Nouveau” artists like Toulouse-Lautrec.


The image is a Yoko-e, a print in horizontal format which is common for showing a landscape. The original size is about 25 centimeters high by 37 centimeters wide.

It shows three elements: a gigantic wave threatening boats off the coast of the prefecture of Kanagawa (southern Kanto region and part of the greater Tokyo Area) and mount Fuji in the back. Sea is the dominant element of the composition with the representation of a wave which unfolds and dominates the whole scene before it comes down.

It was not the first time that Hokusai created this kind of woodblock. The study of his work suggests that many years of work have been necessary to him for achieving this final print. Two later prints have subjects identical to the Great Wave. A boat is in the midst of a storm and a great wave will devour it.

Kanagawa-oki Honmoku no zu (1803)
Oshiokuri Hato tsusen no zu (1805)

Modern transcription

The Great Wave of Kanagawa were transcript in many supports and reproduced an incalculable number of times. I can be common supports such as canvas, tee-shirts or fans for examples.




The great wave off Kanagawa was many times parodied or recaptured in various forms. Today it is a picture that we encounter in all kinds of different contexts. Like a mix between the great wave and One Piece Universe.



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