Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was the adopted son of a mirrormaker
from Edo (possibly, by a concubine, his natural son). He began drawing at
age 5; by the time he died nearly 85 years later, he was the author of more
than 30,000 drawings, woodcut designs, and book illustrations. With his rival
Hiroshige (JAMA cover, June 23/30, 1999), he dominated Japanese painting
of the 19th century and changed the face of ukiyo-e
painting. Scenes of theater, brothels, actors, and courtesans were replaced
by landscape and family scenes. A crowd pleaser and showman, he anticipated
American "action painting" by more than a hundred years: on one occasion,
he ran wildly around a 200-square-meter canvas, scattering paint from a broom
dipped in a pail of pigment. On another occasion, he covered the feet of a
chicken with red paint, then allowed it to run across a sheet of paper he
had painted blue; he called the composition Maple Leaves
on a River. Uncommonly restless, he changed his domicile more than
90 times and his name a dozen times. He suffered tragedy as well—the
loss of two wives and a son—and he had a grandson who was a wastrel.
He was celebrated throughout Japan but for most of his life lived in poverty.
Southgate MT. The Tama River in Autumn. JAMA. 1999;282(17):1604. doi:10.1001/jama.282.17.1604
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