The Great Wave of Kanagawa continues to spearhead the artist's reputation, but there is so much more to see in this extensive career. Katsushika Hokusai produced portraits and landscapes in a multitude of different mediums.

For the purposes of simplicity, we have included all mediums within this section, including ink drawings, woodblock prints and the more colourful Ukiyo-e brush paintings.

Hokusai would draw in techniques from Europe and Asia in order to perfect his work. His own understanding of nature, myth and history would also help to develop the content in his work.

This prolific Japanese artist would produce 3,000 colour prints during his lifetime, from a career which spanned 70 years. His keen eye and passion for the natural world ensured he was never short of inspiration for his work.

During this period there was not much of an opportunity to travel around the country or abroad particularly easily. As such, Katsushika Hokusai would need to draw on his extensive collection of books to expand upon his influences and ideas for future work.

The impact of Japanese artists such as Hokusai upon famous European artists is well known, but there was also some influence going in the other direction. Hokusai, for example, collected imported engravings as well as possessing endless books on worldwide art movements.

Art was a significant part of Japanese culture which reminded many of the virtues of communication across cultures and languages. A isolationist Japan was starting to see through the work of painters like Hokusai that there was much to learn from abroad, just as much as Japan itself had a culture which others would become inspired by.


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Japan was a culture deep in customs and superstitions. It still continues to be so today, although somewhat diluted by the impact of western influences. Hokusai produced some erotic work in a style known as Shunga.

Such a style would be considered controversial in Europe, yet in Japan was used as a powerful protection against death or fire by different sections of society. Compare that to the situation in Michelangelo's Last Judgement, where the artist was forced to cover up elements of the work due to criticism from the work's commissioners.

Common Themes used by Katsushika Hokusai

Whilst being a diverse, ambitious artist who constantly attacked new ideas and techniques, Hokusai's career can be summarised into several key themes which appear repeatedly across his work.

  • Birds and Flowers
  • Mountainous landscapes with some human activity
  • Waterfalls
  • Seascapes
  • Portraits and family life