Art fans will be interested to learm that 103 newly-rediscovered drawings by Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai, have been acquired by the British Museum in London. Created in 1829 as illustrations for an unpublished book, Great Picture Book of Everything, they are available to the public to view online.
Hokusai (1760-1849) is considered by many to be Japan’s greatest artist, and he has been recognized internationally since the Japonisme era of the 1870s, two decades after his death. During his 70-year career, he produced 3000 colour prints, illustrations for over 200 books, hundreds of drawings and over 1000 paintings.
Formerly owned by the collector and art nouveau jeweller, Henri Vever, who died in 1842, the newly-discovered drawings were last publicly recorded at an auction in Paris in 1948, and resurfaced there last year. They are thought to have been in a private collection in France in the intervening years. This acquisition now joins the British Museum’s extensive collection of Hokusai works, which is one of the most comprehensive outside Japan.
They bring the museum's total number of paintings, prints, drawings and illustrated books to over 1000. They contain depictions of religious, mythological, historical, and literary figures, as well as landscapes, animals, birds and flowers and other natural phenomena.
The drawings are a major discovery of Hokusai’s life and works, and are especially significant as they come from a period in the artist’s career where he was previously thought to have created relatively little, due to a succession of personal challenges. Within the previous two years, he had suffered the death of his second wife and recovered from a minor stroke. And just months after these pieces were finished, he pleaded destitution in a letter, in part due to gambling debts incurred by his grandson.
The drawings are said to mark a turning point in Hokusai's career, demonstrating that he was entering a new burst of creativity that would soon result in his famous print series, Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji (c. 1831-1833). All 103 drawings are available to see online here, and it’s planned that they will go on display as part of a future free exhibition at the museum.
“This is a truly wonderful addition to the British Museum’s collection, and is another milestone in our collecting of Hokusai which has continued now for more than 150 years," says Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum. "We’re delighted that these newly discovered works are now in a public collection for everyone to enjoy.”