Number: 605 / SET Title: Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji (Fugaku sanjûrokkei 富嶽三十六景)
Date: undated, 1831-1833
Signature: Zen Hokusai Iitsu hitsu 前北斎為一筆
Hokusai artame Iitsu hitsu 前北斎改為一筆
Hokusai Iitsu hitsu 北斎為一筆 Format: ôban
Publisher: Eijudô 永寿堂 (Nishimuraya Yohachi 西村屋与八)
Censor: kiwame 極
Notes: At the New Year of 1831, Nishimuraya Yohachi published a short novel by Ryûtei Tanehiko titled Made in Massaki (Massaki sei). On a sheet of advertisements at the end of the book Nishimura described for the first time a new set of prints: Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji by Iitsu, formerly Hokusai, single-sheet blue prints (aizuri ichimai), a serial publication with one view on each sheet. These pictures will show how the form of Mt. Fuji varies from place to place, for example as seen from Shichirigahama or Tsukuda Island, all different and particularly helpful to those studying landscape. In this way, one block following another, the set will not be limited to thirty-six prints, but might even reach one hundred.’ In fact, Hokusai designed and Nishimura published, probably between 1831 and 1833, forty-six prints in this famous set. Thirty-six, a canonical number in Japanese art and literature, drew its authority from association with the Thirty-six Immortals of classical Japanese poetry (sanjûrokkasen). By "blue prints", Nishimura meant pictures printed entirely shades of Prussian blue, a type of print popular in Edo in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Printing with different saturations of one pigment meant seeing color and form as one does in the early hours before dawn or after dusk when the eye perceives subtle differences in color value without registering differences in hue because of the dim light. Hokusai loved this grisaille-like optical effect and the first five prints in the set were printed entirely in blue in early impressions, as the publisher's advertisement indicated. Hokusai, a close and meticulous observer, noticed that as the rising sun edged closer to the horizon, color gradually began to emerge from grey, turning foliage slightly green, clouds a delicate pink, and deep shadows black. Intrigued, he added one of these colors to the full range of blues in each of the next five prints in the set. At this point, the series dramatically departed from the publisher's announced intention. In the third group of five that includes Fuji from Tama River and Fuji in Clear Weather, the first rays of the rising sun strike the earth creating delicate, ephemeral, momentary effects. Then, in the fourth group of five, the risen sun casts its full brilliance on the land creating deep shadows and dazzling, sometimes puzzling, highlights. Hokusai's first twenty prints, in other words, chronicle the miraculous daily return of color to the world with the rebirth of the sun and the coming of light. In the last sixteen, he explored the color effects of full daylight on the urban and rural landscape.
Hokusai began his association with Nishimura Yohachi I, the founder of this important publishing firm, as a young man in the middle of the 1780s, and continued working with his successor throughout the first three decades of the 19th century. Indeed, Nishimura Yohachi II published a book of comb designs in 1823 that included some ingenious views of Mt. Fuji and an advertisement for a set of Eight Views of Fuji (Fuji hattai). Nishimura did not proceed with this Fuji publication in the 1820s, but both the artist and the publisher had clearly planned a set of views of Mt. Fuji several years before they began collaborating on the Thirty-six Views set. It is quite possible that in 1823 Hokusai actually produced finished drawings of Mt. Fuji for nine horizontal ôban landscape prints, including Fuji in Clear Weather and Fuji from the Sea off Kanagawa ("The Great Wave") that Nishimura eventually used in the Thirty-six Views set. The artist signed these prints "Hokusai aratame Iitsu hitsu", or "drawn by Hokusai changing his name to Iitsu". This signature is commonly found on surimono published between 1823 and 1825, although also appears on three Hokusai fan prints published in the summer of 1831. (Hokusai may have also drawn the fan prints earlier.) Nishimura published the Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji in eight groups of five prints and one of six between the spring of 1831 and the spring of 1833, judging from contemporary publishing practice, the number of prints in the set, Hokusai's varying signatures, and the artist's use of color. Hokusai signed the first ten prints (early 1831) in the set "Zen Hokusai Iitsu hitsu", or "drawn by Iitsu, formerly Hokusai" with a distinctive "wagtail" form of the character hitsu (or "brush), curving the last, vertical stroke of this character to the right and raising it sharply at the end. The artist signed nine of the second ten prints (ca. late 1831)"Hokusai aratame Iitsu hitsu" (Hokusai signed the tenth print, Fuji from Tama River, "Hokusai Iitsu hitsu"; no other prints in the set bear this signature.) Hokusai repeated the signature "Zen Hokusai Iitsu hitsu" on the last twenty-six prints in the set: numbers 21-36 from the original series (ca. 1832) and ten more prints that comprise a supplementary group (ca. early 1833). However, the artist's wrote his signature on these prints in a more abbreviated and cursive form than on the first ten prints. For example, the character he wrote as 為 on the first ten prints, he wrote as ゐ on these others. Nineteenth century Edo print publishers kept printing blocks as long as there was demand for a print. Hundreds of impressions of some of Hokusai's Fuji views have survived, representing thousands of lifetime impressions. Many surviving impressions are late, physically damaged, or faded. The outlines of later impressions are often worn and are printed with different colors that betray the artist's intention and lose the subtle, original effect.To understand what Hokusai was trying to achieve in his Fuji prints you need to see the earliest possible impression of each print. It is also important to see unfaded impressions to appreciate Hokusai's color sense.