Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’ (and the differences between all 111 of them)

'The Great Wave'

Did you know there are 113 identified copies of Hokusai’s The Great Wave?

 I know the title says 111, but scientist Capucine Korenberg found another 2 after completing her research. What research was that? Finding every print of The Great Wave around the world and then sequencing them, to find out when they were created during the life cycle of the woodblocks they were printed from. This involved painstakingly documenting visible signs of wear to the keyblock that made the Great Wave, and tracking these visible changes as the keyblock continued to be used (fun fact; scholars estimate there were likely as many as 8000 prints of The Great Wave originally in circulation).

If all this sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. Sit back, relax and learn how a scientist’s growing passion for Hokusai changed the way we look at his most famous work.

Content Warning: You’ll never look at this print the same way again.

Double Content Warning: This video will make you question if you brush your teeth for long enough every day.

Credits: All Great Waves are either British Museum, Public Domain images or used with the kind permission of the Edoardo Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art in Genoa.

Adachi Woodcut Prints kindly let us use their GIF images to show the different coloured woodblock impressions.

The Paul Sacher Foundation have kindly given us permission to use the image of Claude Debussy from their Igor Stravinsky Collection.

Science

The British Museum Research Laboratory was founded in 1920. The Laboratory’s scientists provide insights into the past through research on the collection. Using both traditional and the very latest methods and equipment they are able to answer questions that help with the interpretation and understanding of the collection. Their discoveries can tell us what objects from the Museum’s collections are made out of, how they were made, when and where they were made and what that tells us about their history.