When a young Japanese boy who wanted to become an artist was trained, they would spend upwards of nine months learning to draw bamboo, for bamboo was believed to be such a subtle subject that if one could draw it well, one could draw anything. After months of trying to draw bamboo with conviction, the apprentice artist was then permitted to move on to a pine tree, which posed a different challenge, representing mass and gradeur in a simple form. And then onward to plum blossoms, etc. The manga sketchbooks published by Hokusai between 1814 and 1878 are explorations on subjects, simple yet ellegant drawings on everything around him, studies that would find their ways into so many of his pieces, as well as influence generations of artists after him.
For sale here is Page 54 from Hokusai manga 北斎漫画, Vol. 3. From the description of this plate in James A. Michener's "The Hokusai Sketchbooks - Selections from the Manga",
Top left: Egyptian kidney beans. Top right: pomegranate. Center: white muskmelon. Center left: white radish. Bottom left: ordinary gourd. Bottom right: eggplant.
Two of these vegetables are noteworth. The white radish, daikon, sometimes grows to a length of four feet and when pickled like sauerkraut is one of the most delicious and ubiquitous of Japanese foods. It serves a hidden dietary purpose: since Japanese insit upon eating polished white rice, they lose all the vitamins this natural grain contains; but since daikon is pickled in rice bran, many of the lost vitamins are returned in this way. Rice without daikon would mean beriberi; rice with daikon means health. And the man who sees, on New Year's Day, Mount Fuji, a hawk and an eggplant is forever blessed. Some of the finest color prints depict men accidentally glimpsing these three lucky symbols.
This is what he wrote about himself in his autobiography. It is the quintessence of his art philosophy:
"From the age of five I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note. At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own. I only beg that gentlemen of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words."
The Woodblock Print
This piece measures 5" by 7" plus margins. Incredibly thin yet pliable rice paper, not brittle in any way. Tape residue in the top and bottom margin that comes through to the front. Suble coloring of many of the subjects, either in light grey or a faint red tone.
About the Artist
Katsushika Hokusai was born in 1760 in the Katsushika district of Edo (Tokyo) with the given name of Tokitaro. He started an apprenticeship at a woodblock workshop at the age of 15. At the age of 18 he joined the painting and printmaking school of Katsukawa Shunsho and took the name Katsukawa Shunro. The early Hokusai art prints were actor ukiyo-e created under the influence of his teacher Shunsho.
Hokusai must be imagined as a person who was completely obsessed by producing ukiyo-e (Japanese prints). He usually got up early in the morning and worked until after sunset. The art name Gakyo-rojin, which he used from 1834-1849 means "old man mad with painting".
Hokusai was one of the most prolific of all ukiyo-e artists. At the end of his life he had produced more than 30,000 print designs.
The Physical Properties of Hokusai’s Books, Ellis Tinios
Michener, James A. (1958). Hokusai Sketchbooks: Selections from the Manga. Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company.
The World of the Japanese Illustrated Book, Smithsonian Institute