Over the course of a 70-year career, Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai created thousands of woodblock prints, paintings, and drawings. And while many of these pieces like The Great Wave are well known, others have been presumed lost for almost two centuries. The British Museum is presenting a collection of 103 unseen Hokusai drawings from an unpublished encyclopedia entitled Banmotsu ehon daizen zu (translation: The Great Picture Book of Everything) in an exhibition.
Made with ink on paper, these preparatory woodblock drawings, or hanashita-e, would have normally been destroyed when the artist used them to carve the design into a block. However, since the encyclopedia was never executed, they have remained undisturbed inside a wooden box since the 1820s–1840s. The variety of subjects depicted in the series reflect Hokusai's vivid imagination, especially during a time when Japanese people were not permitted to leave the country. All of these pieces are on display for the first time at the British Museum, and available to view online.
Concurrent to the Hokusai exhibition is another first-ever of the artist's work—an NFT sale. The British Museum has partnered with French start-up LaCollection.io to sell NFTs of 200 Hokusai works, including The Great Wave and the drawings from The Great Picture Book of Everything. All of the images will be sold on LaCollection's website, either through an auction or at a fixed price. “For me it is important to democratize art,” says LaCollection co-founder and entrepreneur Jean-Sébastien Beaucamps. “This is a way of helping museums attract a younger, more diverse, and more international public.”
Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything is on display at the British Museum from September 30, 2021, until January 30, 2022. You can book tickets online.