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Pilgrims at Kirifuri Waterfall on Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province
Pilgrims at Kirifuri Waterfall on Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province, c. 1831-32
Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese
Color woodcut
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
1958-151-26
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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, 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.

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.

 

For more information, please contact The Division of Education by phone at (215) 684-7580, by fax at (215) 236-4063, or by e-mail at .

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