London’s Most Famous Works of Art- The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

The past week has seen London heaving under the weight of tourists visiting from across the globe. 17 million people visit London every year, the majority will visit at least one gallery or museum whilst in the capital- with The British Museum and National Gallery taking the top spots. In this series I will explore the most famous works of art currently on display in London’s most popular museums and galleries. Who were the master behind these masterpieces and why are the pieces so adored even today?

As with ‘A Bar at the Folie Bergere’, I was unaware that this was held in the UK until last winter and I have chosen to leave it until last as it is my personal favourite of the 5 masterpieces I have discussed. ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ is actually a type of Japanese woodblock print known as ukiyo-e in which an original painting is attached to a piece of cherry wood before the image is carved away. Due to the way in which the artwork has been created, a large amount of original prints are currently in existence with others in collections across New York City, France and Japan. Each print varies slightly from one another as the woodblock begins to show signs of wear over the years.

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Created by Edo artist, Katsushika Hokusai carved the original block between 1830- 1833 as the first in a spectacular series of 46 prints known as ‘Thirty-Six View of Mount Fiji’. However, the most famous print from these 46 is bay far ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’. The 3 main images are the boats (however in more resent prints the boats are becoming less defined as the woodblock corrodes), Mount Fiji and the great wave. The aesthetically pleasing cyclical motion is often seen as the most common reason why people are attracted to this piece. (I am being to notice how aesthetically pleasing pieces are always the most popular!) The graphic and stylized images in this print appeal to western viewers as it is a style often replicated today. Most recently by Japanese artist, Kozyndan’s creation which replaces the white foam with falling bunnies!

‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ is currently on display at The British Museum, London. Additional prints can also be viewed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art– New York, The Art Institute of Chicago– Chicago and the house of Claude Monet– Giverny, France.

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