In the Hollow of a Wave off the Coast at Kanagawa, popularly called The Great Wave of Kanagawa or Under the Wave off Kanagawa, is an art piece from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. It is a polychrome woodblock print made in 1830-1831 of ink and color on horizontal Oban paper with the dimensions 25.8 x 38 cm. It is one of the most famous and most important masterpieces in the world, and it is one of the most recognisable artworks from Japan.Katsushika uses sharp and curved lines in the waves and the boats. The contour lines in the waves create depth and texture.
The lines in the boats form the wooden pieces, indicating that they are probably handmade. Organic shapes form the waves, and the boat has geometric shapes within it. Shadows in the waves, boats, and sky give the artwork a dark, stormy setting. Blue, the dominant color, also makes the artwork mysterious. Aerial perspective causes the snow-capped Mount Fuji to appear far beyond the waves. The specks of white imply the splashing water created by the enormous waves.Hokusai uses many principles of design to control the elements of art.
The towering waves and sharp edges of the waves emphasize the aggressiveness and chaos in the artwork, and the proportion between the waves to the boats and the people inside the boats also emphasize the size of the waves. There is movement in the waves, created by the lines and colors’ direction. Unity becomes prominent through the same shades of blue and white in the ocean. The repeating colors also form a dark-to-light pattern.
The design of the waves creates a rhythm that gives an impression of eruption. From left to right in the artwork, the large waves transition into smaller, calmer waves. This creates balance in the piece, minimizing the chaos and business, as well as emphasizing the action and movement of the waves.
The Great Wave of Kanagawa is a representation of the tension between mankind and the unpredictable nature. The artwork depicts of mood of hope, as well as disparity, and fear. In the foreground, the waves appear aggressive and dangerous because the tips of the waves act as fingers capturing the fishermen and their boats.
However, the water near the mountain in the background is calm. This contrast suggests that land is safer than water. Unfortunately, from the perspective of the fishermen, reaching land seems impossible.
There is a hope of preventing the fishermen’s fate by getting closer to land, but there is also despairity that results from the distance between the fishermen and the land. Fear comes from the fishermen close together, huddling as a desperate attempt to avoid drowning. The fishermen also are not smiling, which conveys the seriousness of the event.The Great Wave of Kanagawa links Asian spirituality and western techniques. It reflects the Taoist philosophy, which emphasizes living in harmony and yin and yang; the Buddhist philosophy, which involves philosophical investigations and analysis; and the Shinto involves ritual practices to connect present-day Japan to its past. However, Hokusai’s use of western techniques are recognizable through the use of perspective and through his representation of daily life among common people (the fishermen). The artwork is important because it influenced many artists’ work.
For example, it inspired Van Gogh’s painting Japonaiserie, 1887, and it also inspired French composer Claude Debussy’s who, in 1905, composed La Mer (The Sea) to honor the artwork. Today, museums around the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are displaying copies of The Great Wave of Kanagawa. The original is in conservation due to its sensitivity to the light.