Katsushika Hokusai's unseen drawings come to the British Museum this fall

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"Fumei Choja and the nine-tailed spirit fox" is one of Hokusai's drawings that will be on show at the British Museum this fall.

Although Katsushika Hokusai is undoubtedly Japan's best-known artist, some of his works have never been on public display. The British Museum will remedy that late September with the exhibition, "Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything." The show will feature more than 100 unseen postcard-sized drawings by the artist.

Most art aficionados know Katsushika Hokusa for "Under the Wave off Kanagawa" -- or "The Great Wave" -- one of the most recognizable and reproduced artworks of all time. But the Japanese artist is thought to have produced 30,000 works over the course of his lifetime.

Among them are 103 previously unseen drawings, which were acquired last year by the British Museum. Their existence had been all but forgotten until 2019, when they resurfaced at an auction in Paris and were purchased by the cultural institution for £270,000 (about $369,360).

It is believed that Hokusa created these lively drawings between the 1820s and the 1840s for the illustrated encyclopedia, "Great Picture Book of Everything." He wanted to present vignettes about the origins of Buddhism in India, ancient China and the natural world.

Despite creating the drawings for what was intended to be a book, the project was never completed. Historians at the British Museum claim that, if the book had been published, these illustrations would not exist because a professional block-cutter would have pasted each one face down onto a plank of cherry wood and cut through the back of the paper with chisels and knives to create detailed printing blocks. This process would have destroyed the drawings. Instead, they were kept in a box and have not been seen publicly since.

The drawings will be exhibited for the first time as part of "Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything," which runs September 30 through January 30, 2022, at the British Museum. Visitors will also have the opportunity to see Hokusai's masterpiece "Under the Wave off Kanagawa," alongside objects that give further insight into his working practices. Hokusai is said to have worked with frenetic energy, rising early to paint and continuing until well after dark. "The show shines a light on the last chapter of the artist's career and life, uncovering a restless talent that burned brightly into his final years," explains the British Museum.

Those who cannot travel to London to visit "Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything" can discover the Japanese artist's drawings on the museum's website .

Caroline Drzewinski

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