Pilgrims at Kirifuri Waterfall on Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province
, c. 1831-1832
Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese
Ōban tate-e: 14 13/16 x 10 1/8 inches (37.6 x 25.7 cm)
The Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White Collection, 1958
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About This Print
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 printmakers 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,
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.
Japanese Woodblock Printmaking
Woodblock prints like this one are made by transferring an image
carved on a block of wood onto a sheet of paper. Japanese woodblock printmaking is known for its innovative use of materials.
The first and one of the most important steps for the artist is
selecting the proper wood. Traditional Japanese printmakers integrate
the grains of wood into the design. After the woodblock is
selected, the surface is cut away with knives or gouges varying in
size to accommodate different thicknesses of lines. Next, ink is
applied to the surface with brushes and then a piece of paper is
placed over the colored block. The back of the paper is rubbed
with a baren, a disk-shaped pad. The areas of the woodblock that
are cut away will remain blank on the paper.
Artists, like Hokusai, enjoy using many colors in their prints. This
requires a method of multipleblock printing in which a separate
woodblock is carved for each color used. Each block has register
guides called kentō
cut into it. The guides help the artists align the
blocks so that each color is printed clearly without spoiling other
parts of the design. The paper made for woodblock printing must
be strong and absorbent to stand up to many rubbings with a
baren. Japanese printmakers favor paper made from mulberry trees.
This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Japan
, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.