30 Mar, 2017 750 Painting

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the Japanese artist whose views of Mt Fuji such as The Great Wave off Kanagawa (pictured) are some of the most iconic in world art. He worked as Japan was slowly moving towards greater contact with the outside world, trading with China and allowing two Dutch ships to dock each year. From these ships he picked up new synthetic colours and illustrations with Western compositions, which he incorporated in his traditional wood block prints. The quality of his images helped drive demand for prints among the highly literate Japanese public, particularly those required to travel to Edo under feudal obligations and who wanted to collect all his prints. As well as the quality of his work, Hokusai’s success stems partly from his long life and career. He completed some of his most memorable works in his 70s and 80s and claimed he would not reach his best until he was 110.

Listen on BBC Sounds website


  • Angus Lockyer 2 episodes
    Lecturer in Japanese History at SOAS University of London
  • Rosina Buckland No other episodes
    Senior Curator of Japanese Collections at the National Museum of Scotland
  • Ellis Tinios No other episodes
    Honorary Lecturer in the School of History, University of Leeds

Reading list

  • Hokusai
    Gian Carlo Calza (Phaidon, 2004) Google Books →
  • Hokusai and his Age
    John Carpenter (ed.) (Hotei Publishing, 2005) Google Books →
  • Hokusai's Great Wave: Objects in Focus
    Timothy Clark (British Museum, 2011) Google Books →
  • Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave
    Timothy Clark (Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2017) Google Books →
  • Hokusai: Prints and Drawings
    Matthi Forrer (Prestel, 2009) Google Books →
  • Art of Edo Japan: The Artist and the City 1615-1868
    Christine Guth (Yale University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • Hokusai's Great Wave: Biography of a Global Icon
    Christine M. E. Guth (University of Hawaii Press, 2015) Google Books →
  • Hokusai: Life and Work
    Richard Lane (Penguin Books Ltd, 1989) Google Books →
  • Hokusai
    Sarah E. Thompson (MFA Publications - The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2015) Google Books →
  • Hokusai's Lost Manga
    Sarah E. Thompson (MFA Publications - The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2016) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b08k1b0q

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08k1b0q

Auto-category: 759.952 (Japanese art and artists)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, Hokusai, born in 1760, was a major power in Japanese art, creating extraordinary images at a time when Japan was largely closed off from global cultures.