Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese artist, who lived from 1760 to 1849. During this period, it was not uncommon for artists to regularly use pseudonyms, and he was known by more than 30 different names during his life. However, Katsushika Hokusai is the name by which he is most popularly known today.
He was proficient in ukiyo-e, a style of Japanese art popular from the 17th to 19th centuries. He enjoyed a prolific career, producing a total of over 30,000 works during his lifetime.
His most famous work “Great Wave off Kanagawa,” transcended Japanese art, and became popular worldwide.
“Peonies and Butterfly” is a colour woodblock print, and was created in the early 1830s. It is part of a series of works, commonly known as Large Flowers.
The work depicts four peonies, pink and orange in colour, along with their green leaves. The flowers are bending in the wind, and we can see the underside of some of the leaves as they turn in the breeze. This effect is achieved by the use of colour, dark green for the top of the leaf, and a lighter shade for the underside.
To the right of the flowers is a butterfly, which appears to be struggling against the wind. Unable to flap its wings as it attempts to fly, or to land. With this simple image, the artist is able to convey the strength of the breeze.
Images of peonies and butterflies are extremely popular in Japanese art. The peony is seen as a symbol of bravery and good fortune, and is called the “King of Flowers.”
The butterfly has a strong symbolism in Japanese culture. It can represent many things, including joy, and transformation. It is commonly believed to be a carrier of the souls of the deceased.
Hokusai influenced many of the French Impressionists. Claude Monet, in particular, was a great admirer of his work. “Peonies and Butterfly” is one of 23 prints, by the artist, that he owned.