Hokusai’s Full Mount Fuji Series Could Fetch $5M in Christie’s Asia Week New York Sale

The 46-piece series is the highest-value lot in the "Japanese and Korean Art" sale.

Print of large blue and white ocean wave
‘Under the Well of the Great Wave Off Kanagawa (Great Wave).’ Courtesy Christie's

The 19th-century Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai has long been renowned for the legendary stormy scene depicted in Great Wave. His woodblock print is one of the most reproduced images in art history—it even has its own emoji. However, many people are unaware that the work is part of a 46-piece series intended to depict Mount Fuji across various landscapes and seasons.

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Now, a complete set of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji is heading to auction for the first time in 20 years. Expected to fetch between $3 million and $5 million in Christie's Japanese and Korean Art sale tomorrow (March 19), the series is the highest-value lot of the auction house’s Asia Week New York offerings.

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Born in 1760, Hokusai was a master of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The genre depicted Edo, now known as Tokyo, through urban scenes of everyday life. Hokusai, however, focused heavily on portrayals of nature. “He’s one of the first artists to work on landscapes rather than images of actors and beauties,” said Takaaki Murakami, Christie’s head of Japanese art, in a description accompanying the sale.

Dozens of prints hanging on white gallery wall
Several of the prints in 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Courtesy Christie's

Hokusai’s wide-ranging influence

Japan’s ukiyo-e prints received international acclaim after the country re-opened its borders in the 19th century after a period of foreign isolation. Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji was especially celebrated. The series was published between 1830 and 1834 and initially consisted of 36 works, as evidenced by its title, but grew to include ten additional prints due to its popularity.

The impact of Hokusai’s techniques and style can be seen across artists like Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. His Great Wave, meanwhile, has been stylistically referenced throughout the decades in works like Roy Lichtenstein’s 1963 Drowning Girl and Andy Warhol’s 1985 Waves (After Hokusai).

Other examples from Hokusai’s print series include Red Fuji, a red-toned print that depicts the mountain’s eastern side during either the late summer or early fall. In Ejiri in Suruga Province, the mountain is shown in the background as travelers fight strong winds while traversing a narrow path. “His portrayal of Mount Fuji is versatile and complex,” said Murakami. Most of the prints are also differentiated by their strong use of Prussian blue pigment, which entered Japan via Western traders at the beginning of the 19th Century, according to Christie’s.

Print of red-tipped mountain
‘Fine wind, clear weather (Red Fuji).’ Courtesy Christie's

The series includes Hokusai’s Fine wind, clear weather (Red Fuji). The complete series is being sold by Jitendra V. Singh, a former professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who began collecting reproductions of Hokusai’s work in the 1990s before deciding to assemble the entire 36 Views of Mount Fuji set. The subject matter is what drew Singh to the series, he told The New York Times. “I have a thing about mountains. To me Hokusai captured the essence of the mountain,” he said. Singh acquired his first example from the series in 2013 and completed the 46-piece collection by January of last year.

In addition to featuring Hokusai’s series during its auction of Japanese and Korean artwork, Christie’s programming during Asia Week New York is set to include sales dedicated to Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian works, art from South Asia and its diaspora and items from the collection of philanthropist Dorothy Tapper Goldman.

Hokusai’s Full Mount Fuji Series Could Fetch $5M in Christie’s Asia Week New York Sale