Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) may be best known for his iconic woodblock print, The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa, but few are familiar with another work, a breathtaking painting titled Breaking Waves that was created fifteen years after Great Wave at the height of Hokusai’s career. This rarely seen painting—the culmination of Hokusai’s lifelong effort to capture the sea—is one of roughly fifty works on view in Hokusai: Mad about Painting. The exhibition, which originally opened at the Freer in the fall of 2019, was on view until the museum closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on the museum’s impressive Hokusai collection, we are now giving visitors the opportunity to see a new presentation, with artworks being added throughout the summer. In addition to Breaking Waves, the exhibition includes works large and small, from folding screens and hanging scrolls to paintings and drawings. Also included are rare hanshita-e: drawings for woodblock prints that were adhered to the wood and were frequently destroyed in the process of carving a block prior to printing. Among the many featured works are Hokusai manga, his often humorous renderings of everyday life in Japan.
The museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Hokusai’s paintings, sketches, and drawings, in large part assembled by museum founder Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), who recognized the artist’s vast abilities before many other collectors. The collection reveals an artistic genius who is considered by many to be Japan’s best-known artist.