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Hokusai in Berlin

August 15, 2011

Clockwise from upper left: These first eight sketches are from a “Hokusai Manga” workbook published in 1818 and now owned by an individual. The drawings portray fat, ordinary men and women in a humorous light. The women are so plump they look like they are having trouble simply walking. The next five sketches, published in 1817, illustrate an efficient method of seizing a person. Notice how Hokusai framed each scene in a style that contemporary manga artists still use today. The drawings on the bottom right of this page are from a sketchbook published in 1818. The drawings, which depict people simply laying about or reading, are quite comical.

Influential ‘Hokusai Manga’ sketchbooks to get full showing
Books carried to Europe by German expelled from Japan inspired Impressionists
TADASHI MIYAKAWA Senior staff writer ceptual flexibility and versatility, not to mention his accurate sketching skills. The “Hokusai Manga” corner will display all 15 editions, owned by Japanese museums and other parties, as well as 10 copies of the first print, all held by Museum fur Ostasiatische Kunst (Museum of East Asian Art), in Berlin. The special section will endeavor to demonstrate the painting manuals’ influence on succeeding generations by exhibiting printing blocks used to produce the first edition as well as netsuke clips and other artifacts modeled on drawings in “Hokusai Manga.” According to Seiji Nagata, head of the Katsushika Hokusai Museum of Art, it was Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German physician who worked in the Dutch trading house on the island of Dejima in Nagasaki in the early 19th century, who first introduced “Hokusai Manga” to the West. Siebold had come to Japan in 1823 and was expelled from the country in 1829. “Hokusai Manga” books were included in the materials Siebold brought back home with him, and a large number of sketches from “Hokusai Manga” made their way into Siebold’s ethnological “Nippon.” The series most famously influenced Impressionists such as Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet, as well as other painters close to them. They sketched the drawings in “Hokusai Manga” and used them as motifs in their own works. As for Degas and Hokusai, many scholars have compared the two artists’ bodies of work in detail, deciphering the influence of “Hokusai Manga” on the French artist’s renowned dancers, washerwomen and other motifs. “Hokusai Manga” played a central role in Japonism — the influence of Japanese arts on those of Western Europe — in the late 19th century, when that influence was particularly strong in France and other European nations. Le Japon Artistique — a French, English and German-language monthly on Japonism launched in 1888 by art dealer Siegfried Bing (Samuel Bing) — featured “Hokusai Manga” twice in its first year of publishing. “There is the genuinely new world here, and some of the treasures hidden there are to make appearances before us,” wrote art critic Ary Renan in one of the magazine’s special issues on “Hokusai Manga,” edited by Bing. The diversity of sketches, Hokusai’s astonishing dynamic visual acuity to freeze people in midmotion and capture other snapshots of daily life as well as his pioneering style of framing each scene — a method still employed by contemporary manga comic writers — are only some of what makes “Hokusai


he “Hokusai — Retrospective” exhibition in Berlin will feature a corner devoted to the “Hokusai Manga” series. Amid the artist’s rich trove of woodblock prints and other works, these sketchbooks have always found a special place in the hearts of Hokusai’s West European disciples. The 15th and final edition of “Hokusai Manga” was published posthumously in 1878, 64 years after the first edition was put out. That original collection, formally titled “Denshin-kaishu Hokusai Manga,” was a long seller. The book, a painting manual, really, is much more than a collection of sketches for art students to mimic. It is an anthology of more than 3,900 sketches. The drawings range from people and their body language and facial expressions to animals, insects and fish to buildings and tools to plants and nature scenes. The enormous scope attests to Katsushika Hokusai’s conSUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION
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Manga” so appealing. Germany has turned out large numbers of students and major collectors of ukiyoe woodblock prints since the end of the 19th century. Now many of the country’s fine art enthusiasts will have the chance to rediscover some of Japan’s “hidden treasures” in the special “Hokusai Manga” exhibition.

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