Media only: James Gordon, 202.633.0520; Rebecca Fahy, 202.633.0521; Howard Kaplan, 202.633.0435
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition dates: March 4–May 14, 2006
Media Previews:
Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006, 10 a.m.–noon, Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, NYC
Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006, 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m., Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C.

December 5, 2005

An unprecedented exhibition of works by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), whose iconic woodblock print “The Great Wave” is one of the most recognized images in the art world, will be on view at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery March 4 through May 14, 2006.

The exhibition of more than 180 paintings, prints, drawings and printed books will bring together for the first time 41 paintings from the Freer Gallery of Art, the largest and most important collection of paintings by Hokusai, with masterpieces from museum, library and private collections throughout the world. Charles Lang Freer (1854–1919), founder of the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery, collected most of the Gallery’s Hokusai paintings, drawings and prints between 1898 and 1907. Because of restrictions on Freer’s bequest to the nation, works in the collection cannot be exhibited outside the Freer Gallery and adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Therefore, this will be the only venue for this unique exhibition.

“Hokusai” will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the official gift by Freer of his art collection and museum to the United States. The most recent major display of the Freer Hokusai paintings was the 1960 exhibition “Hokusai Paintings and Drawings,” organized by Harold P. Stern, the first curator of Japanese art at the Freer gallery and the museum’s director from 1971 to 1977. That exhibition marked the 200th anniversary of Hokusai’s birth in Edo—modern-day Tokyo.

With nearly 80 paintings, 60 printed books and drawings and 50 prints, “Hokusai” will reveal the artist’s expressive scope and emotional power. Prints and illustrated books, rather than paintings, began to establish Hokusai’s artistic reputation outside Japan even during his lifetime, and they were the primary focus of scholarship and collecting in the first century after his death. The exhibition will uniquely situate Hokusai’s development as a painter and offer, for the first time, the Freer paintings as evidence.

Hokusai was the first Japanese artist to become widely known in the West. Born in 1760 in the thriving Japanese city of Edo, he produced brilliantly original images in the popular media of woodblock prints and books. His creations have profoundly influenced European and American painting, design and popular culture.

More than 150 years after his death in 1849, Hokusai’s artistic achievement continues to transcend historical and cultural boundaries and has extended even into contemporary scientific fields, where his work is cited in journal articles on perception, creativity, fractal studies, chaos and turbulence theories.

The exhibition will represent Hokusai’s entire career, from the early years as a young artist in his 30s to his last year of life as an active artist at the age of 90, falling just 10 years short of his desire to live more than 100 years. He expresses this desire in a now famous quote attributed to him:

From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about fifty, my pictures were frequently published; but until age of seventy, nothing that I drew was worthy of notice. When I reach eighty years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.

“Thunder God,” a masterpiece painted in the twilight of Hokusai’s life, embodies the artist’s lifelong interest in expressions of dynamic movement, energy and inventive compositions. Another painting in the exhibition, “Boy Viewing Mount Fuji,” is a serene and atmospheric landscape that recalls the many renderings of the mountain made famous in Hokusai’s print series “Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji.”

The exhibition will include three pairs of six-panel folding screens, the only known examples of Hokusai’s paintings in this large format, and several other smaller screens which express Hokusai’s intense and observant interest in nature. Also included in the exhibition is an approximately 47-foot-long hand scroll, again depicting various scenes from nature, which is the only one in existence anywhere in the world.

Hokusai’s mastery of brush, ink and color, his innovative technical and aesthetic ideas and his ability to work in formats ranging from small fans and album pages to large folding screens will be fully explored in the exhibition.

The exhibition will be organized in two major sections: The first will introduce the audience to Hokusai’s life as an artist and follow him from his youth to his last years, and the second will examine his paintings. The paintings will be organized around the themes of humanity, literature and legend, the natural world, the supernatural world and Hokusai’s last years. The exhibition will reflect recent scholarly re-evaluations of the artist’s paintings, which include a number of recognized masterpieces.

“Hokusai” is co-organized by the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, in cooperation with the Tokyo National Museum. Ann Yonemura, senior associate curator of Japanese art at the Freer and Sackler galleries, is the curator and coordinator of the exhibition. James Ulak, deputy director of the Freer and Sackler galleries and curator of Japanese art, will oversee administration of the exhibition.

The exhibition is generously supported by Fidelity Investments through the Fidelity Foundation, the Anne van Biema Endowment Fund, All Nippon Airways, Asahi Glass Co. Ltd., Astellas Pharma Inc., Canon U.S.A., Inc., Mitsubishi Corporation, NEC America, Inc., Panasonic Corporation of North America, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Robert and Betsy Feinberg with additional support from the Blakemore Foundation and the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation.

A full-color catalog by Ann Yonemura, Seji Nagata, Tadashi Kobayashi, Timothy Clark, Shugo Asano and Masato Naito will accompany the exhibition.

For a list of programs, download the Spring 2006 Public Programs Schedule.

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily, except Wednesdays and public holidays and are subject to docent availability. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the special exhibition-related section of the galleriesÕ website at