Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Katsushika Hokusai's Equestrian Artwork

When thinking of the great artists from history who have done equestrian artwork, there is one very famous artist who does not often spring to mind and that is the Japanese ukiyo-e master Katsushika Hokusai.

During his lifetime, Hokusai made a massive amount of prints, sketches, and paintings depicting countless different subjects, including the horse. While he doesn't seem to have been specifically labelled an equestrian artist, we can only assume he had at least a little bit of a passion for drawing horses. He makes mention of their beauty and elegance in the commentaries accompanying his equestrian paintings and he has also been quoted as saying that his ultimate goal was to paint a horse so close to life that it could run straight off the page! Most likely this quote probably applies to all of his subjects in general, but it certainly does apply to many of the horses he painted in his lifetime!

Let's take a look at some of his equestrian (and horse-related) paintings, prints, and manga:

"The Waterfall Where Yoshitsune Washed His Horse at Yoshino in Yamato Province"
by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).
One of Hokusai's most famous prints where a horse is the main subject is "The Waterfall Where Yoshitune Washed His Horse at Yoshino in Yamato Province". This print comes from his 1827-1830 series "A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces".  In this print we can see two peasants washing a horse in the famous Yoshino Falls where, according to a popular Japanese legend, the legendary general and warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune washed his horse while hiding from the enemy in the nearby mountains. There's no doubt that the true subject of this print are the waterfalls themselves, but the horse does have a central place in the print. 

"The Warrior Hatakeyama Shigetada Carrying His Horse"

In the print on the right, we see the famous samurai warrior from the Genpei wars Hatakeyama Shigetada carrying his horse Mikazuki on his shoulders. Mikazuki's colors, spots, and mane are very detailed and we can see the malaise in his face as Hatakeyama carries him down the hill.

"Wild Horses" from "Hokusai Manga".

In "Hokusai Manga" (1814-1878), Hokusai did a number of horse sketches. Many of these were instructional, teaching aspiring artists of the day how to draw horses. Some depicted samurai and generals riding horses. Others, such as the one on the right, depict horses as beautiful creatures in their natural environment going about their everyday lives. Or legends - both local and national - about people and horses (i.e. the "horse-tamer" woman of Kaizu village). Hokusai manages to draw some of the native Japanese horse breeds and captures their colors and emotions well. 

"Peasant on a Horse" by Hokusai.

Hokusai also made a number of Chinese-style sumi-e (ink wash) paintings of horses. One of the most famous is his painting "Family of the Horse" which, as the name suggests, depicts a family of horses grazing underneath a tree. The painting is painted with a shade of mist and the horses, which were painted with relatively few lines, all look cheerful and content. In the painting on the right, titled "Peasant on a Horse", the horse is more detailed and we find ourselves observing the surroundings with the rider as the horse takes him on his way. Both of these paintings are fine examples of the Chinese shuimohua ("brush painting") tradition that Hokusai was able to master.

All in all Katsushika Hokusai made some excellent depictions of horses. When looking at his paintings, it's hard not to imagine the horses coming to life and galloping across a field, or taking a legendary samurai into a battle fought many centuries ago!

(All image copyrights:


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