A world icon at the Abbey

From the collection of the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology,
‘Ehon Azuma-asobi’ (Picture book of the pleasure spots of the Eastern Capital)

Here at the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology we are the fortunate custodians of a series of woodblock printed illustrations from an icon of the art world.  Can you guess the artist?

Born in 1760 in Edo (Tokyo) Japan, he would go on to inspire an entire 19th century cultural craze in the decorative arts to collect ‘all things’ Japanese (‘Japoinism’).  This artist inspired Art Nouveau, Impression, and was highly collected by none other than Degas, Gaugin, Klimt, Van Gogh and Manet.  Later in his life, at the age of 70 years, he created one of the most famous images of Art History, titled: ‘Under the wave off Kanagawa’ (Kanagawa oki nami ura) or ‘The Great Wave’ from the series of ‘Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji’ (Fujaka sanjurokkei).

I am of course referring to icon of world art, Katsushika Hokusai. 

The Hokusai prints held at the Abbey are from the collection of Rev. John S. Ward and depict scenes and ‘pleasure spots’ of his hometown.  Titled: ‘Ehon Azuma-asobi’ (Picture book of the pleasures of the Eastern Capital), they were created early in Hokusai’s career.  Originally released in 1799 as monochrome ink on paper, later releases from 1802 and including those held by the Abbey, were gloriously coloured. 

Abbey Museum Senior Curator, Michael Strong, recalls studying our illustrated picture book and questioning Hokusai’s seemingly strange use of various bright pinks, grey and olive green colouring.  However, on a late afternoon stroll a few days later he was struck by the realisation of Hokusai’s precise observation of nature as the exact tones used in ‘Ehon Azuma-asobi’ were witnessed in the sunset before him. Perhaps you could decide for yourself next time you observe a late afternoon sunset.

Other examples of ‘Ehon Azuma-asobi’ are found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harvard University, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We hope you enjoy this video showing all the pages of this beautiful work held by the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology.

‘Ehon Azuma-asobi’ (Picture book of the pleasures of the Eastern Capital) by K. Hokusai, 2nd edition, volumes one, two and three. Woodblock printed book; ink on paper. Collection item no. WO2966.

Ehon Auma-asobi by K. Hokusai