The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, had long possessed—in its fabulous collection of Japanese art unparalleled anywhere outside Japan—an anonymous album of drawings long assumed to be by Hokusai. That album has now been persuasively linked to the artist, through art-historical detective work, via a hitherto mysterious publisher’s advertisement, from 1823, for Master Iitsu’s Chicken-Rib Picture Book. (Iitsu was one of Hokusai’s many disguises; the title might thus be translated, as MFA curator Sarah E. Thompson notes, “Hokusai’s Tasty Morsels.”) The volume of tasty morsels remained unpublished—until now. The cover displays a partially clothed abalone-diver swooping down on her prey with a knife between her teeth. She seems just the right official greeter for Hokusai’s incisive art.
When French artists like Manet and Degas first encountered Hokusai’s manga, in fifteen volumes numbering some 4,000 plates, it was the disjunctive, off-the-cuff quality of the images that proved most exciting. Hokusai seemed to be a Japanese flâneur, sketchbook in hand, who quickly took down whatever he saw on his travels or in his teeming imagination. Again and again in Hokusai’s Lost Manga, travelers take a break from their journeys—up craggy mountains, down dangerous rivers—to scrutinize the countryside. A dapper falconer, a hawk perched on his shoulder, looks out over carefully tended fields. A dog beside him reinforces the intent gaze of hawker and hawk. This is how to view this variegated world, Hokusai seems to say, in plate after plate in this visually arresting album.
Hokusai’s Lost Manga is published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
A falconer and two gardeners; drawing by Hokusai, 1823-1833
A giant loom; drawing by Hokusai, 1823-1833
A man washing a horse; drawing by Hokusai, 1823-1833
A portal and a four-gabled gate; drawing by Hokusai, 1823-1833
An abalone diver; drawing by Hokusai, 1823-1833
Sculptors; drawing by Hokusai, 1823-1833
Swordsmiths; drawing by Hokusai, 1823-1833
Washerwomen; drawing by Hokusai, 1823-1833
Zodiac signs; drawing by Hokusai, 1823-1833