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Adachi's Pick -Masterpiece of Ukiyo-e-
Katsushika Hokusai "Masterpieces of Flowers and Birds" - Part 2 -

May 13, 2022

Adachi's Pick -Masterpiece of Ukiyo-e-
Katsushika Hokusai "Masterpieces of Flowers and Birds" - Part 2 -

"Adachi's Pick -- Masterpiece of Ukiyo-e" is a series of articles where we feature one ukiyo-e artist and his work with background information about how the artist's prints were produced and insights from the perspective of a woodcut printing studio.

This time, we are introducing a series of Oban large-format flower-and-bird prints by Katsushika Hokusai, which has a contemporary feel unlike other ukiyo-e prints. The series has been highly acclaimed worldwide and has been incorporated into the designs of leading glass artisans such as Gallé, Daum, and Lalique.

Hokusai is an artist who was passionate about painting everything under the sun, from Mt. Fuji, waterfalls, bridges, and the ocean, to traditional themes of natural beauty in Japanese aesthetics. So, how did Hokusai approach the theme of this series, flower-and-bird prints? How did Hokusai look at the natural world and how did he try to depict it?

In Part 1, we focused on the bold compositions that Hokusai used to express nature and studied how he mastered the expression of "stillness" and "motion" in his works.
>>Part 1

In Part 2, we will compare Hokusai's flower-and-bird prints that capture the vitality of flowers and birds with the flower-and-bird prints by Hiroshige, Hokusai's biggest rival, and explore the difference between two great ukiyo-e masters, Hokusai and Hiroshige.

■ Flower-And-Bird Designs by Hokusai and Hiroshige,
  Two Great Masters of Ukiyo-e Landscapes

When Hokusai created a series of "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji," Utagawa Hiroshige, known for his works such as "Fifty-three Stations on the Tokaido" and " One Hundred Famous Views of Edo," was also highly regarded as a landscape artist. Hiroshige was more than 30 years younger than Hokusai but was already a worthy rival for Hokusai. The two artists fascinated people with their individual styles that made the most of their unique characteristics.

Masterpieces of Hokusai and Hiroshige

Like Hokusai, Hiroshige has left many excellent works not only in landscapes but also in the field of flower-and-bird prints, and many of their works have the same motif.

Katsushika Hokusai "Hydrangea and a Swallow" Utagawa Hiroshige "Hydrangea and Kingfisher"

This is the hydrangea flower depicted by Hokusai and Hiroshige. You may notice that the atmosphere of the works is completely different when you see them side by side.
If you take a closer look, there is a big difference in how the two artists portray hydrangeas. Let's take a closer look at the difference.

■ Hokusai's Lines, Hiroshige's Planes

These are proof prints of hydrangeas by Hokusai and Hiroshige. A proof print only has the lines of the artwork by the artist. Hokusai's hydrangeas already have a clear shape, whereas Hiroshige's hydrangeas are not found anywhere.

Proof print of
Katsushika Hokusai "Hydrangea and a Swallow"
Proof print of
Utagawa Hiroshige "Hydrangea and Kingfisher"

Hokusai carefully captures each small petal of the hydrangeas using lines of varying thickness. When you look at the proof print, you can see the delicacy of his brush strokes.

Hiroshige's hydrangea, on the other hand, is composed of karazuri embossing and pale-colored planes. You can see from the proof print how Hiroshige skillfully makes use of the colored planes to compose the piece.

Let's now look at other motifs. These are the peony flower by Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Katsushika Hokusai "Tree-peony and Butterfly" Utagawa Hiroshige "Peony and Peacock"

Hokusai efficiently depicts the thin and soft petals of the peony fluttering in the wind with the bare minimum of lines. In addition, the outline of the flowers and the veins of the flowers and leaves are depicted with delicate lines, and the front and back of the flowers and the leaves are brilliantly expressed with different colors.
In contrast, Hiroshige's peony is a combination of several red color planes, and by overlapping the planes, the appearance of the elegant flowers is formed three-dimensionally. This creates the glorious and dignified ideal figure of a peony.

Hokusai's flower-and-bird prints, in which objects are simply placed on a background filled with a single color and the motif is realistically depicted with "lines," give a modern and cool impression similar to graphic arts. It can be said that Hokusai emphasized "lines" when striving to depict the essence of his subjects.

On the other hand, Hiroshige's flower-and-bird prints have a touching lyricism and a unique warmth that embody the Japanese sense of beauty. This is because Hiroshige makes full use of delicate expressions utilizing "planes" in order to depict the Japanese sensibility, culture, and ideal beauty.

In this installment of the series "Adachi's Pick -- Masterpiece of Ukiyo-e," we featured Katsushika Hokusai's "Masterpieces of Flowers and Birds." We hope you enjoyed Part 2, in which we compared Hokusai and Hiroshige's flower-and-bird prints, studied the methods of expression that each emphasized, and discussed the charm of the two artists.

Adachi's website introduces all 10 works in Hokusai's Masterpieces of Flowers and Birds collection, which you can enjoy as a series.
Furthermore, at the Adachi woodcut prints showroom in Mejiro, we are holding an exhibition entitled "Hokusai's passion, 'How to describe Nature'" that focuses on Hokusai's depictions of nature. Please drop in when you are in the neighborhood.