In Focus: Hokusai Manga

One of my favourite (re)discoveries recently has been that of 10 volumes of Hokusai’s Manga, stashed away in the Chinese Room.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was a Japanese artist, most famous for his piece ‘The Great Wave of Kanagawa’, which was a part of his series Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji. He worked extensively with prints and woodblocks, as was the fashion of his age, although the majority of his most notable work was completed later in his life. He is believed to have produced over 30,000 (!) pieces of work over his lifetime. In 1814, he published his largest collection, Hokusai Manga, which consisted of 15 volumes, containing over 4000 sketches of people, animals, objects and writings. This manga shouldn’t be confused with modern day manga (Japanese cartoons / graphic novels) – the two are very different things!

Our set is believed to have been published in or around 1880, and is not complete – 5 volumes are missing. Whether or not they were ever part of the collection remains unknown. In 1955, they were taken to the Museum of Eastern Art (Oxford), and examined by Peter Swann, one of their specialists – who declared them ‘most charming’. Whilst this is a flattering assessment, I’m not sure all of them could be classed as charming – fascinating might be a better word.

Now that these volumes have had condition reports done, they will be on display in the Chinese Room in a much more prominent position.