While many Americans were thinking about July 4th as American independence, I was fascinated by a different freedom—the freeing of amazing Japanese art 169 years ago. On July 8, 1853, American naval Commodore Matthew Perry led four ships into Tokyo harbor seeking the first discussions and trade relations with Japan in more than 200 years. In reality, he forced the country open.
One consequence was a flood of Japanese art that poured into the Western world, most prominently the woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Many art historians and artists and average Joes have called this one of the most famous works of art in the world. So why has it fascinated so many people from so many walks of life and so many cultures for so long?
The Old Man and the Mountainous Sea
Katsushika Hokusai was in his seventies when he created the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (technically forty-six prints). The most famous piece from that collection, and most famous and recognizable of all Japanese…