More about Under the Wave off Kanagawa

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Maybe you first saw this image as a poster on your college roommate’s wall or perhaps as a puzzle at your local bookstore.

Either way, people have become so giddy for this piece of art that, though it's supes old, has continued to pop up in contemporary visual culture to this day. This beauty is Hokusai’s first print in the forty-six print series: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. Once Hokusai saw how successful the first thirty-six prints were, he added ten more images to the series. While this leaves us with a bit of a misnomer for the body of work, we can’t really hate; clearly the man knew how to capitalize on a good opportunity.

This piece depicts a giant wave about of engulf three boats full of worrisome travelers as well as Mount Fuji in the background. Mount Fuji appears quite frequently in Japanese art due to its cultural and religious significance. In the folklore tale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a goddess deposits an elixir of life into the peak of the mountain. Subsequently, the mountain has been seen as a source of beauty and immortality and serves as an object of obsession for many Japanese natives.

Whether this spawn of Poseidon is a tsunami or just a big ass wave is still up for debate, but either way, the fishermen depicted are probably a little sea sick. It has been estimated based off of the size of the people that the wave is about 35 feet tall! Think the Perfect Storm with less Clooney. 

This image was made using the Japanese technique of woodblock printing known as ukiyo-e. It is estimated that Hokusai was able to pump out about 5,000 copies of this image before the printing block began to degrade. With so many copies floating around the world, you would think it lowered in value, right? Well, not exactly. Turns out that in 2012, Sotheby’s sold a set of the forty-six print series for just shy of $1.5 million. Cowabunga.

It's hard to look at this woodblock print and not sense an eerie reminder of Japan’s not-so-distant past of natural disasters. Just four years ago, Japan was taken over by a catastrophic tsunami, resulting in one of the largest nuclear meltdowns the world has seen. Since the meltdown, increased levels of radiation have entered our waterways and have been cruising on over to the US, which is a little distressing to us at Sartle since our headquarters is located right on the water in San Francisco. Should we be concerned? Probably. Are we going to run for the hills and leave the world void of a source for juicy art history gossip? Never! 

Comments (2)


The Great Wave off Kanagawa reminds me of the wave emoji! I've seen this painting before, but have never paid attention to the detail. I like the textured background, and the boat with passengers that blends right into the waves! I love the colors, I love the colors and the contrast they create.

Breanna Larsen

I really like this painting because of how detailed the waves are. I also like it because of the hidden sailors inside the waves that you can only see if you really look at it.