Saturday in the Museum with Hokusai

Image: Katsushika Hokusai, Poem by Emperor Tenchi (Rice Farmers) (c. 1835).

For our Saturday art post about where food comes from, we return to Japan. Katsushika Hokusai is probably Japan’s most famous artist. His “Under the Great Wave off Kanagawa” is one of the world’s most iconic images.

The piece we highlight today comes from another series Hokusai did in which he used a famous anthology of 100 poems from 100 poets as the basis for images. He did not complete the series. A central theme to the paintings was human labor. The Emporer Tenchi’s poem, the reference for this piece, reads: “In the autumn fields I seek a shelter in a hut, Now my sleeves are growing wet by the soaking dew from the rush mat roof.” The Freiburg Museum, which owns the print, describes the painting:

“Hokusai depicts the autumn moment when the rice is cut from the fields and brought in for harvest. The composition is complex in terms of details and colours, and there is directional movement to both the left and the right, as the paths of the farmers zigzag across the surface. The complexity is harnessed by the swaths of horizon, which impose a unity upon the image. Here, just as in the image entitled Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji, a central group of trees-in this case deciduous-dominate the composition. Rice harvesting has been seen for ages and across cultures as a symbolic measure of a just ruler. When the rule of the emperor or king was in accordance with the laws of the gods the land was rewarded with a bountiful rice harvest. We see an intimation of that age-old symbolism in this image, with the large sheaves of rice brought in by the farmers-so heavy that the wooden beams bend and farmers struggle under their loads.”


We hope your harvest was successful and you are able to enjoy the holiday season. As always, we post about art related to food to draw attention to the primary purpose of our site, which is a dining guide for D.C. We have 300+ recommended restaurants. You can sort by cuisine or neighborhood in either LIST or MAP format. So if you are gonna be in town, check us out.

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