While many people with even a brief exposure to Asian art are familiar with Hokusai's The Great Wave and Red Fuji, far fewer have been exposed to the entire series of prints that helped inspire a worldwide fascination with all things Japanese. The publication of Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji (1829-33) and its 10 supplementary additions (1834) brought the Japanese landscape print to a new level of mastery and influence that is still being felt today. Now with Hokusai's Mount Fuji: The Complete Views in Color, one can take the solemn journey through the 46 landscapes of a vanished world that to this day affect how Japan and its people are perceived by the Western world.
Looking through the entire series of plates (each with concise commentaries), one immediately notices how the eye is instantly drawn to the iconic shape of Mount Fuji, which appears in different sizes and locations. From this one fixed focal point, the rest of the picture can be taken in, understood, and personally interpreted. Under luminous, multi-colored skies, Hokusai reproduces landscapes and architecture with mind-bogglingly intricate detail. One also notices how relatively insignificant the human figures (even when depicted in the foreground) appear when compared with their milieu, almost as if their placement is coincidental and only included for realistic accuracy. People appear more prominently in the later prints, but even then are mostly shown with their backs to the viewer, looking away indifferently, or with faces obscured by hats. Nature, weather, light, atmosphere, and the omnipresent form of Mount Fuji dominate each picture's panorama. In five instances, the print has been greatly enlarged to show more detail. Beyond a preface and three brief introductory essays, this book provides very little verbage, allowing the prints to speak for themselves. The commentaries are helpful in drawing the viewer's attention to details they might have missed, but thankfully are not integral to one's enjoyment of this book.
The plates reproduced in this book are taken from three collections in the French National Library. We're told that the finest impressions have been selected, but picky purchasers should be forewarned that no reproduction (especially one from over a century ago) is perfect, and smudges, creases, printing blotches, and fold-marks can be seen on almost every page. While readily apparent, these miniscule distractions did not ruin the book for this reader. One reproduction quibble I would like to raise involves borders: some of the prints have a complete white border on all four sides, some have a white border at the top and bottom only, and some take up the entire page and bleed over onto the facing page. I have no idea what influenced these artistic-editorial decisions, but they do not interfere with the viewer's enjoyment. While a little more uniformity would have been appreciated, I can still highly recommend this wonderful book to those who enjoy Japanese landscape art/ukiyo-e.