Titles: Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura) / The Great Wave
Series: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku Sanjūrokkei)
Creator: Katsushika Hokusai
Period: Edo Period (1615-1868)
Medium / Materials: Woodblock print made with ink and color on paper
Demensions: 10 1/8 x 14 15/16 inches
Repository: The MET (New York, NY)
Description: Within this visually dynamic print, Hokusai overwhelmly captures the almighty power of the deep sea as an imposing wave towers over the iconic Mount Fuji and 3 fragile wooden boats. A strong sense of impending doom is created by the structure of the wave at its apex as it reaches out with the foamy, claw-like hands of mother nature. Hokusai’s transition between deep prussian blue to brighter shades within the belly of the wave also animates the water’s surface and adds intense visual depth to the barrel of the wave. Although time is stopped for the audience, the immense wave masterfully bestows a feeling of fluid motion and power to its viewers.
Despite all the chaos in the foreground of the image, the eternal Mount Fuji stands static in the background, dwarfed by the massive wave. Thanks to Hokusai’s brilliant compositional technique, we get a view of the great mountain that would be seemingly impossible to witness in real life. Moreover, the duality of the motionless Mount Fuji coupled with the surging wave adds a unique tension to the painting as the emotions one gets when scanning from the stationary mountain to the energetic wave clash in conflict. Together, these two earthy creations combine to symbolize a story of timeless Japan at war with the ocean that has kept it safe from western influence for centuries. Thus, the uncertainty of the climatic scene leaves viewers to wonder if the vast sea will become the nation’s downfall.