'Under the Wave off Kanagawa' ('The Great Wave') is probably the most iconic Japanese artwork in the world. It depicts a monstrous wave about to come crashing down on three fishing boats and their crews. On the horizon is Mount Fuji, dwarfed by the colossal wave. The print was created by Hokusai when he was about seventy years old, as part of his Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji series. The print was made using colour woodblock printing and many thousands of impressions were made - each one sold quite cheaply.
How did The Great Wave become one of the most famous images in the world?
When The Great Wave was first issued, in about 1830, Japan’s contact with the outside world was strictly regulated. It was only in 1859 when Japan, under pressure from America and other powers, opened a few of its ports that Japanese prints began to be exported to Europe. They were quickly discovered and celebrated by European and American artists like Whistler, Van Gogh and Monet. The Great Wave inspired Debussy’s symphonic sketches La Mer and has become one of the most iconic images of the power of the sea.