Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything ★★★★★ The British Museum | Sep 30, 2021 - Jan 30, 2022


In Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything we see over 100 exquisite little drawings by Japan's most famous artist, Katsushika Hokusai. These newly rediscovered works haven't been on public display before and date mainly from the 1820s. Hokusai's intention was to provide a visual encyclopedia of every form of life, and each composition, from historical figures to exotic animals and mythical creatures, is depicted in stunning detail. He had boundless invention. Many pieces have delightful wit including a naughty ape on a camel's back or a grinning, long-snouted baku. Others are more serious in tone, but all demonstrate Hokusai's sensational ability, even into his seventies, to draw with minute accuracy and without the aid of glasses. These drawings were intended to have been destroyed as they were designed to be pasted onto board in readiness for printing and then only seen in book form. Several of these books are also on show; they are sensational. We are also offered an opportunity to compare two prints of his most famous work, "The Great Wave," with tiny variations being pointed out. Most of the drawings are pen with black ink, but when Hokusai does use colour it is limited and amazingly subtle. Each piece is only the size of a postcard, and we were lucky enough to see them with no crowds milling about. If the exhibition is busy, it may be more of a challenge to take the time to look closely, but your efforts and patience will be well rewarded. These sensational drawings really do provide a great picture book of everything.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Image: Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), 'Cats and hibiscus' (The Great Picture Book of Everything). Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum.

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