A lively waterfall dominates this famous work by printmaker Katsushika Hokusai (kah-tsuh-she-kah ho-ku-sah-e). The print is from a series by the artist called A Tour of Waterfalls of Various Provinces. Kirifuri waterfall was a popular site to visit during Hokusai’s time and still is today.
Strong white and blue vertical lines pour down from the top of the waterfall, dividing and spreading wider at the bottom like the roots of a tree. Three male travelers in front of the waterfall look up, mesmerized by the beauty and scale of the surging water. Above and to the right, two more figures look down at the scene from a higher point on the hill. Well-balanced colors of blue, green, yellow, orange, and white bring together many elements in the print. The importation of mineral pigments from Europe in the nineteenth century, especially Prussian blue, gave Japanese landscape print-makers like Hokusai new opportunities to express dramatic effects of sky and water. Hokusai carefully plays with warm and cool colors, creating contrasts between water, rock, and earth.
Born in Tokyo, Katsushika Hokusai liked to sign himself “The Old Man Mad for Drawing,” an apt nickname for an artist who made more than thirty thousand drawings in his lifetime. Apprenticed to a woodblock-print engraver in his teens, Hokusai learned the technical and interpretive skills involved in translating an original ink drawing into the engraved lines of the print block. Hokusai’s flat, decorative colors and lively designs would later influence many French Impressionist artists.