Pilgrimage to Hokusai's Waterfalls
May 17, 2012 – November 2012
The newly redesigned Japanese gallery spotlights WAM’s very rare, first edition impressions of A Tour of Waterfalls in the Provinces (ca. 1833), a masterpiece woodblock-print series by the famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Pioneering the theme of falling water, Hokusai made liberal use of the newly fashionable imported Prussian blue pigment and imbued the prints with atmospheric breadth and timeless intimacy through his faith in the purifying power of waterfalls. A permanent display of Japanese ceramics, ranging in date from 17th century to the 21st century, as well as the imposing early 10th century wooden sculpture of the Eleven-headed Kannon, will also be on view.
The opening of the gallery is made possible by funding from Margaret Hunter in memory of Mimi d. Bloch and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
The 1830s were a “golden decade” for the Japanese painter and woodblock print artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). At this time he created many of the masterpiece print series featuring landscapes, bridges, birds and flowers, poets, and ghosts that first gained him fame in Japan and later throughout the world. One such series, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (ca. 1830-32), included the famous image of the “Great Wave” framing Mount Fuji. Many scholars argue that A Tour of Waterfalls in the Provinces (ca. 1833), a set of eight prints in which Hokusai pioneered and focused on exploring inventive ways to depict cascading water, even more fully exemplified his original artistic genius and reverence for animistic
Shinto and esoteric Buddhist beliefs. The prints on exhibit are very rare, superb first-edition impressions, donated to the Worcester Art Museum in 1901, as part of the John Chandler Bancroft collection.
Hokusai chose to depict waterfalls located in the eastern, central and west-central regions of Japan’s main island, Honshū, that were familiar to pilgrims and travelers of his day. Three of these waterfalls are counted among the one hundred most beautiful Japanese waterfalls, namely the Kirifuri, Amida and Yōrō waterfalls. His vertical compositions include figures dwarfed and awed by the falls plummeting in varied configurations. Color also played a powerful role in highlighting falling water as the principal theme as well as evoking forested mountain surroundings. Hokusai liberally used various shades of the imported Berlin or Prussian blue pigment (bero-ai) and included contrasting browns, yellows
Spiritual practice within the indigenous Japanese religion known as Shintō; (Way of the Gods) aims at becoming like the flow of water that blurs divisions and transcends boundaries, and many devotees practice purification rituals under waterfalls (taki shugyō ). Hokusai believed in the natural sacredness of water and waterfalls to cleanse and restore life in accordance with the revitalizing flow of Divine Universal Consciousness (kannagara). This innate faith imbued the prints with atmospheric breadth and timeless intimacy.
Hokusai died in the fourth lunar month of 1849. The haiku he wrote just before his death reads: “Now as a spirit I shall lightly roam the summer fields” (Hitodama de / yuku kisanji ya / natsu no hara).