South wind. Clear day (Red Fuji)

Katsushika Hokusai • Print, 1832, 24.4×35.6 cm
$54.00
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35.6 × 24.4 cm • 306 dpi
74.5 × 49.7 cm • 150 dpi
37.3 × 24.9 cm • 300 dpi
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About the artwork
Art form: Print
Subject and objects: Landscape
Style of art: Ukiyo-e
Technique: Engraving
Materials: Wood
Date of creation: 1832
Size: 24.4×35.6 cm
Artwork in selections: 53 selections
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Description of the artwork «South wind. Clear day (Red Fuji)»

At the venerable age of 70, Hokusai began working on the series of woodcuts that would become canonical both for his work and for classical Japanese prints in general. The 36 Views of Fuji cycle includes two of his world-famous works, South Wind. Clear Day (aka Red Fuji) and The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

The series was destined to become a cult: it had its followers among Hokusai’s contemporaries, and it inspired people in the twentieth century. In the 1860s, another Japanese ukiyo-e engraver, Utagawa Hiroshige created the cycle of the same name, 36 Views of Fuji. And in 1985, the American science fiction writer Roger Zelazny created 24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai, the main plot of which is based on the pilgrimage of a woman awaiting her early death to the places captured on the artist’s engravings.

36 and 10

Initially, the series included 36 engravings, in which the sacred Japanese mountain could be contemplated from the most picturesque angle: from the side of the capital Edo (present-day Tokyo). These sheets are called Omote Fuji (Front Side Fuji).
After the overwhelming success of the cycle, the publishing house decided to continue the series, and issued another 10 sheets, on which the Mount Fuji was captured mainly from its western slope — Ura Fuji (the Back of the Fuji). We do not know the reasons why a significant difference appears on them: on the extra 10 sheets, the outlines of objects are indicated in black, in contrast to the original engravings, where objects are outlined in dark blue.

Another feature of the entire series is that a special shade of blue was used in its creation, which was called Berlin Indigo. At the time, it was a new pigment brought to Japan by Dutch merchants.

Blessed innocence

In fact, despite the name of the cycle, the sacred mountain itself appears in only two engravings. The Red Fuji is one of them (and here is the second one). On all the rest, its snow-capped peak is only a picturesque backdrop, against which either everyday scenes from the life of different classes with raging elements are played out, or even more picturesque landscapes unfold with the participation of the animal world representatives.

It would seem that Hokusai portrayed nothing supernatural on this engraving, but its prints are kept in the best world collections, such as the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Indianapolis Art Museum and others.
This is the most laconic print by Hokusai, the quintessence of Japanese minimalism. Nothing superfluous: just a few colours, a couple of objects in focus — just a lonely mountain and sky, and cirrus clouds around. All the elements are drawn in a sketchy, symbolic way, as if the artist deliberately set himself the goal of displaying the conceived composition with the minimum possible means.

Mount Fuji stood by the sea

When looking at the artwork from the height of our century, you realize how much it is ahead of its time. The Red Fuji could be a representative of modernity, which is not surprising, because the origins of Art Nouveau are deeply rooted in Japanese art. In the way the spines of the coniferous forest cover the foot of the dormant volcano with single strokes, the breath of Impressionism is clearly traced (even its emergence has been contributed by Japanese engraving).

In its geometric and colour purity, Hokusai’s engraving is close even to the artistic ideals of the Suprematists and the illusory nature of the dream landscape has Surrealist signs. No matter how phantasmagoric the red mountain may seem, its appearance is not a fiction and not a whim of the artist.

The fact is that the mountain is exactly how it appears under the conditions mentioned in the engraving title. In early autumn, when the sky is clear and the wind is blowing from the south, the rising sun paints Mount Fuji crimson. And this transitional moment between night and day, the change of seasons, between sleep and reality, skilfully captured by Hokusai, makes Red Fuji as attractive and almost as paradoxical as the Malevich’s Black square.

Written by Natalia Azarenko
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