The Wave That Changed Art History

Without the Japanese printmaker Hokusai, Impressionism might never have happened. Jason Farago examines the moment when European art started turning Japanese. The blue and white tsunami, ascending from the left of the composition like a massive claw, descends pitilessly on Mount Fuji – the most august mountain in Japan, turned in Katsushika Hokusai’s vision into a small and vulnerable hillock. Under the Wave off Kanagawa, one of Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, has been an icon of Japan since the print was first struck in 1830–31, yet it forms part of a complex global network of art, commerce, and politics. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has just opened an exhibition of the art of Hokusai.

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