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Katsushika Hokusai: the starving artist who became the prince of tides

The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai
The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai Credit: Rex

There’s a curious thing about Katsushika Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa – the renowned Japanese woodblock print that has come to be known, simply, as The Great Wave. Although the composition is dominated by a monstrous ridge of saltwater, which rises from the ocean like the Leviathan, the “star” of the picture is, in fact, the distant, snow-capped peak of Mt  Fuji, visible on the horizon.

“The sea is churning up, and everything is in flux,” explains Timothy Clark, the curator of Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave, an exhibition opening at the British Museum next week. “But Mt  Fuji, which is a deity in Japanese religious belief, is the solid centre – it’s the fulcrum. Once you notice it, the foam coming down from the wave starts to look like snow falling on top of the mountain. The perspective is very playful.” Yet, since Hokusai’s print was first issued, probably in 1831, the human drama...

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