Irises and grasshopper
Hokusai, Katsushika; designer; Japanese printmaker, 1760-1849
circa 1833 circa 1834
Colour print from woodblocks. Ôban 258 x 379. Signed: zen Hokusai Iitsu hitsu. Publisher: Eijudô (Nishimuraya Yohachi). Censor’s seal: kiwame. c.1833-4.
bequeathed; 1941; Raphael, Oscar C.
From the rare untitled series of flower prints published by Nishimuraya Yohachi c.1833-4 known as the ‘Large flowers’. The series is remarkable not only for the careful observation of nature and the realism of the depiction, but also for the bold, close-up compositions, which might be considered the equivalent of ‘large-head’ close-ups (ôkubi-e) applied to landscape. Hokusai followed up this series with a series in smaller (chûban) format, known as the ‘Small flowers’. Around the same time, Hiroshige made his first kachô-e (bird and flower pictures) which, together with Hokusai’s flowers, belong to a larger category, kachô-fûgetsu (flower and bird, wind and moon), a term used to describe the beauty of the natural world as a whole. The importance that Hokusai attached to the study of nature can be gauged from the artist’s own postscript to the first volume of Fugaku hyakkei (One hundred views of Mount Fuji) published in 1834: ‘Ever since the age of six I have had a mania for drawing all kinds of things. Although I had published numerous designs by my fiftieth year, none of my works produced before my seventieth year  is really worth considering. At the age of seventy-three I have almost come to understand the true form of animals, insects and fish, and the real nature of plants and trees. Consequently, by the age of eighty I will have made more progress; at ninety I will have got closer to the essence of art; at the age of one hundred I will have reached a decidedly higher level which I cannot define, and at one hundred and ten each dot and each line from my brush will be alive.’ The iris was traditionally associated with festivals held early in the fifth month, and was perceived as a symbol of success. Hokusai frequently depicted irises in his picture books, and he discussed how they should be coloured in his Ehon saishiki-tsû (Picture book of colouring) of 1848. The colouring in this impression is remarkably well preserved.
Bequeathed by Oscar Raphael 1941 (received 1946)
Kachôfûgetsu: the natural world in Japanese prints. 2009-02-17 - 2009-05-17
Organiser: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Cambs.), UK
Venue: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Cambs.)
Object Number: P.191-1946
(Paintings, Drawings and Prints)
(record id: 182600; input: 2011-03-29; modified: 2018-01-25)