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Comparison of Katsushika Hokusai and Christiane Baumgartner

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Arts
Wordcount: 2028 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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I will be comparing two chosen images which are similar by Katsushika Hokusai and Christiane Baumgartner. Both artists are from different time periods one being contemporary art and also where they grew up this would have impacted their influences for their work growing up.

Hokusai was a Japanese artist, painter and printmaker, Hokusai was supposedly born on the 31st of October 1760 and died on the 10th May 1849 however this is not confirmed. His artwork changed throughout time and even changed, from each different piece of work that he created. Not only did his paintings, prints and drawings all change. His prints showed an enormous change in style throughout his later life. Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’ was published sometime between 1829-33, which was during the late Edo period, the print was apart of the very first print in Hokusai’s series of the ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’. According to a video on Hokusai ‘the prints itself wasn’t discovered outside of Japan until the late 80’s’. (Art Fund 2017).

The woodcut print represents an enormous wave alarming three boats off the coastal town while Mount Fuji is almost hidden in the background, while often assumed to be a forming tsunami, the wave is more likely to be an unexpected wave which is called a rogue. In the series the prints vary around the subject matter of Mount Fuji experiencing various weather conditions, and the mountain Fuji itself appears in the background of each print whether it be the main feature or hidden. In the print there is great when looking at the peak of the wave, I believe Hokusai has used imagery within the waves, looking like claws possibly trying to project a sense of fierceness. This resemblance I feel is both intentional and significant, what I see here is Hokusai masterfully portraying the force of nature against the delicateness of humans. Like an animal with its prey about to attack.

‘The Great Wave Off Kanagawa’ 1829-33, Katsushika Hokusai.

Looking closer at the small wave in the distance, it shows a likeness to the outlining of the Mount Fuji in the background, in this print the waves are heavily dominating to the composition as an approaching wave about to crash.  The waves start to form a circular like motion around the center of the print, which is enclosing on Mount Fuji in the background as if it’s about to crash into the mountain. In Hokusai’s print I find that the sky is a negative space here and it’s remarkable echo of the shape of the wave, which is hidden as a cloud. The Great Wave print has a fairly neutral colour pallet with the addition of blue: Blue is the dominant colour and it is repeated consistently throughout the print, the deeper bit of the wave is illustrated in the print by being the darkest blue, while the top bit of the wave which is closest to the surface being lighter. The waves gradually get lighter from the top downwards, which is opposite to the background, as it is darker then gradually gets lighter. Hokusai cleverly highlights the gradual decrease in water volume with a decrease in the shading. The colours chosen for artworks can often have an effect on the viewer’s feelings and emotions whether it is done purposely or not. Because automatically the instinctual feeling when seeing the colour blue is sadness. Sadness and despair would be fitting emotions due to the danger that’s about to occur from the large wave which is about to take passengers on the boats overboard.  

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Baumgartner was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1967. She completed her Masters in Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London in 1999. Baumgartner is primarily known for her very large scaled woodcuts which are based off of her video stills own films. Baumgartner is one of the most avant-garde figures in the art of contemporary printmaking, and the abstraction in her works rises out of the artist’s investigation of the traditional woodcut technique fused with the modern digital imagery, which Baumgartner takes as a starting point for her work. Transferring the images into one of the most traditional printmaking technique, the artist cuts the horizontal lines, which, with the structure of the wood itself, help to build her abstract images.

The structure of the woodcut indicates the former digital image, due to the grade of abstraction her prints only become clearer when viewed from a distance. Skillfully using this abstraction, and the absence of the full image, the artist’s woodcuts question the perception of the eye, the concepts of time, space and motion, and the problem of depicting them. Through the use of a self-generated line grid, the featured woodcuts in the exhibition seem to flicker when looked at and the scene that is static appears to be moving again. This method that Baumgartner has used seems to reoccur and seems to link the artist’s tradition method of creating Optical Illusion art. Baumgartner’s print called ‘The Wave’ (2017) is a large scale monochromatic woodcut. Baumgartner’s woodcuts produce a three dimensional illusion with the lines running across the print making the print abstract unless viewed from a distance, I find that the illusion brings the print to life almost like a glitch/ wave being frozen before crashing.

‘The Wave 2017’, Christiane Baumgartner

Both of the artists have used the same traditional methods, which is a wood cut to carve their prints. The difference between the methods would be that the introduction of colour in Hokusai’s prints. Hokusai’s print is a type of Japanese art called Ukiyo-e (from 17th-19th century). Whereas Baumgartner brings a sense of duality which connects many aspects of her practice by bringing together two distinct technologies; woodcut which is the earliest form of reproduction and digital technology. Baumgartner has stuck with the traditional idea of woodcuts being monochromatic, I believe the reason why she uses a monochromatic pallet is due to the atmosphere she’s trying to create a sense of danger with the size of the waves and the saturation. With both images being so similar, almost replicated when comparing both works John Berger’s reading of ‘The ways of seeing’ Published in 1972, comes to mind because Berger talks about how our experiences of art are influenced by the different medias which could be, in an art book or a discussion of art in a documentary or TV, so that our influence to it is inevitably shaped by its re-interpretation. Which I strongly believe has impacted Baumgartner’s work due to Hokusai’s work being so well known and reproduced over the years. ‘No other Japanese print is as widely celebrated as Hokusai’s Great Wave. It figures frequently in all kinds of design, from comics to advertisement’ (M.Forrer, 2002) In Berger’s reading ‘because works of art are reproducible they can be theoretically, be used by anyone’ which I strongly agree with because art can be influenced by translating experiences throughout time, changing opinions and also different values.‘One can forget about the reproduction and simply be reminded, when one sees the original’ (J.Berger P.18). Which I also strongly agree with because it is very often that one can be inspired by a piece of work, which will result in elements of the art work being reproduced.

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From analyzing Baumgartner’s print and her other works it’s hard to tell if she is appropriating Hokusai’s work with the amount of similarities both of the works share. As Baumgartner’s a contemporary artist with very little current published interviews about ‘The Wave’ it is not public knowledge to whether she has used the photograph from her own source material or has used secondary source material, however this is how she’s described selecting her images in another print so I believe she has used the similar thought process. ‘It all started with an image of a highway, from a video I made while I had a residency in Lisbon. For a year, I was interested in the still images of movement, and was thinking about how I could transform them by making something handmade.’ Apollo Magazine March 2018.

From an interview with Alan Christea Gallery she has said ‘took her camera and filmed from the TV you can see the interference from the TV and camera within the work’ for one of her previous pieces which was based on planes.

In conclusion both prints are similar, one with a bigger impact, however both trying to represent negative emotions. I believe that Hokusai’s print despite having colour has more of a fear aspect. Whereas Baumgartner’s print is large and scary however it doesn’t have the same effect because I see it as if it was on a TV screen and it had frozen. Furthermore the overriding comparative impression I get from viewing both images is that it above all demonstrates the difference on how we view the oceans from the 1800’s to more recent times. This is because in the earlier print, we see an increasingly menacing wave ready to take another set of lives which was common in the days before large engine powered ships especially in Japan which still is a small fishermen country, in the more recent print, we don’t even see a boat which for me encapsulates a much more timid wave which typifies the disconnect we currently face with the ocean and our reduction in fear from it.



  • John Berger (1972) The Ways of Seeing. London, Penguin Books Ltd. (P.18)
  • Matthi Forrer (2002) Hokusai Prints and Drawings. Munich, Germany. Prestel Publishing. (P.11)




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