British Museum, London
Rare black and white sketches by the Japanese genius are magnificent explorations of the human condition
Like me, you may think of the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, whose long and brilliantly productive life ended in 1849, and see a blast of blue. The sensual colours of his woodblock prints, those exquisite shades of sea and sky, are what stay with you. But the British Museum’s new show strips away those seductive colours and reduces Hokusai to black and white. It’s a daring thing to do.
As a story of detective work and rediscovery, this show is a sensational event. In June 2019, a set of 103 drawings mistakenly attributed to another artist went on sale in Paris. Expert dealer Israel Goldman recognised this as a lost body of work by Hokusai and the British Museum’s authority Timothy Clark agreed – so the museum bought them. It’s a rare good news story at a challenging time. But if you come expecting a blockbuster you may be surprised to find a sombre, low-lit show in the museum’s drawings gallery. Stick with it. The rewards are massive.