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AHRC Research Underpins New Hokusai Exhibition

Date: 10/01/2017


A £755,000 research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research (AHRC) has underpinned a major new exhibition on the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), which is being formally announced today (Tuesday 10 Jan) by the British Museum.

The exhibition, ‘Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave’ has come about thanks to a research grant led by, Timothy Clark at the British Museum, and Dr Angus Lockyer, Lecturer in the Department of History at SOAS, University of London. The research project ‘Late Hokusai: Thought, Technique, Society’ which runs for April 2016 – March 2019, focuses on Hokusai’s last three decades, a prodigiously productive period in the artist’s life.

Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, said: “Over the last decade investment by the Arts and Humanities Research Council has helped to significantly build the research capacity in our great museums and galleries. Research is so important in terms of telling fresh new stories about artists or collections, revealing hidden details or helping us to re-appraise a well-known story.

Dragon rising above Mt Fuji. Hanging scroll, ink and slight colour on silk
Dragon rising above Mt Fuji. Hanging scroll, ink and slight colour on silk, 1849. Hokusaikan, Obuse. On display from 25 May - 2 July.

“Major exhibitions such as the ‘Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave’ at the British Museum are only possible because of the meticulous and collaborative research by researchers and curators across the world. The research that the AHRC funded has enabled the British Museum to turn a new page in the story of Hokusai and his creativity and influences; and will take visitors to the exhibition on a journey beyond the iconic and much loved ‘The Great Wave’ print.”

The exhibition, the first to focus on the later year of Hokusai’s life, features the iconic print ‘The Great Wave’ of c. 1831 and continues to the sublime painted works produced right up to his death at the age of 90. It runs at the British Museum from 25 May – 13 August 2017.

The exhibition will use AHRC funded research to shed new light on Hokusai’s personal beliefs and his spiritual and artistic quest through major paintings, drawings, woodblock prints and illustrated books. Many have never been seen before in the UK. From iconic landscapes and wave pictures to deities and mythological beasts, from flora and fauna to beautiful women, from collaborations with other painters and writers to still lives – the works on show will be extraordinarily varied, with objects drawn from the British Museum’s superb collection and many loans from Japan, Europe and the United States.

Hokusai’s most iconic print, ‘The Great Wave’ will be featured, a fine, early impression acquired in 2008 by the British Museum with the assistance of the Art Fund. Hokusai created this world renowned masterpiece when he was about seventy. 'The Great Wave’, with its use of deep perspective and imported Prussian blue pigment, reflects how Hokusai adapted and experimented with European artistic style.

Research tells us that throughout his career, and particularly in the later years, Hokusai’s paintings brought vividly to life an extraordinary bestiary of dragons, Chinese lions, phoenixes and eagles, and forcefully energised depictions of mythological figures and holy men. He also continued to use landscape and wave imagery as a major subject and he became increasingly interested in exploring in his art the mutability and minutiae of the observable world -- particularly birds, animals and plants and other natural subjects. Hokusai based his exploration of the outside world on his subjective identification with his surroundings rather than any objectively 'scientific' or technical approach.

The exhibition results from a close curatorial collaboration with Dr Shūgō Asano, leading Hokusai scholar and Director of the Abeno Harukas Art Museum, Osaka, where a similar exhibition Hokusai – Fuji o koete will be shown from 6 October – 19 November 2017. This international collaboration was also facilitated by the AHRC grant.

For more information about ‘Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave’ please visit the British Museum website.

Main Image: Under the wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave) from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji. Colour woodblock, 1831. Acquisition supported by the Art Fund. © The Trustees of the British Museum. On display from 25 May - 13 August.

Notes for the editor

Tickets £12.00, children under 16 free, Booking fees apply online and by phone.


Opening times

Saturday –Thursday 10.00–17.30

Friday 10.00–20.30

Last entry 80 minutes before closing time.

A full public programme will accompany the exhibition.

Arts and Humanities Research Council funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe. You can find out more information via www.ahrc.ac.uk or following us on Twitter at @ahrcpress, on Facebook at Arts and Humanities Research Council, or Instagram at @ahrcpress.

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