Hokusai at the MFA

Bella looks at a print series

Bella looks at a print series

Last Wednesday we went to the members only preview of the Hokusai exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. Everyone enjoyed it even if Ben did say we were there too long. Poor Ben does enjoy the art, but his attention span is much shorter than ours and he doesn’t want to stop and ponder every work. As it was both Dom and I felt we hadn’t spent nearly enough time, which means, I suppose, we must have spent just about the right amount of time for our family as a whole. Some people wouldn’t believe you could take five kids to the art museum at all, so I guess I should be grateful. But it is rather frustrating that I never get to linger long enough. If I didn’t have little kids with me and all other things being equal, I’d stay until my back and feet and legs were killing me and my throat was parched and my eyes crossed and I couldn’t take in any more art.

The children look at books in a case

The children look at books in a case

Ben looks at a print in a book

Ben looks at a print in a book

Ben looks at a book

Ben looks at a book

The nice thing about this particular exhibit was how well prepared the children were to enjoy it. We first encountered Hokusai some time last year (or was it the year before?) when we did a little mini unit on Japanese art and culture. We got some picture books about him and looked at a bunch of his works online and then found a delightful little children’s book called The Old Man Mad about Drawing, about a little boy who meets an elderly Hokusai and becomes his apprentice. The book takes the reader on a tour of Edo in the late 1800s, looking at various aspects of Japanese culture and daily life. It’s a highly entertaining story, beautifully illustrated, and full of information about the artist, his career, and the techniques of drawing and the printmaking process.

The children were all ready to find pictures they recognized and to spot new ones to like. They were especially enthralled with the part of the exhibit where you can see two short videos of the woodblock carving and print making and all the actual tools used in the video as well as an entire series of prints of The Great Wave showing each step in the process, one print for every layer of ink.

Woodblocks and tools

Woodblocks and tools

woodblocks and tools

woodblocks and tools

woodblocks and tools

woodblocks and tools

Sophie and I admire the print series of The Great Wave

Sophie and I admire the print series of The Great Wave

Anthony sees The Great Wave

Anthony sees The Great Wave

Hokusai was an amazingly prolific artist. A graphic designer as well as painter and book illustrator. We saw a board game, snack bags (collect all 8!), fans, advertisements, lanterns, wall hangings, books, prints, and more. Landscapes, birds and flowers, animals, cityscapes, interiors, so many subjects!. Samurai, courtesans, artisans, peddlers, musicians, nobles, peasants, a cross-section of humanity.

Of especial interest to the children was seeing a painting of three women playing musical instruments and then seeing the actual instruments depicted in the work.

Sophie and I walked through the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji and examined every one and talked about each print. She was very patient and very observant. She’s quite a nice companion to have. The other children flitted back and forth, now looking and talking, now going off to see something else, to sit on a bench, to see what Dom was doing, but Sophie is much more focused when she wants to be. And this was a subject she’d decided she was interested in. Bella does her own thing now. She’s able to read the labels on her own, at least enough to satisfy her curiosity, so doesn’t need me to translate for her. She had her own agenda. I missed chatting with her so much, but I can’t have deep conversations with five children simultaneously.

Sophie and I look at the Views of Mount Fuji

Sophie and I look at the Views of Mount Fuji

Ben contemplates a view of Mount Fuji

Ben contemplates a view of Mount Fuji

Ben and Sophie examine a view of Mount Fuji

Ben and Sophie examine a view of Mount Fuji

I really do enjoy sharing the art with my children and I think I’m pretty good at talking about the pictures with each of them on their own level, getting them to pay attention and to see a little more than they would have on their own. I try to follow their lead while still taking time to stop and ponder my favorite pieces.

Hokusai is an amazing artist and I hope we might be able to get back to see this exhibit again when my sister comes later in the month. I wonder if the children will tolerate another visit. Maybe if we bring sketchbooks and they sit and try to draw a couple of favorite pieces. I’ve already seen them trying their hand at Mount Fuji and at waves. It could be fun to see what they might do if they were deliberately trying to copy.

Examining a diorama

Examining a diorama

A lion

A lion

A paper lantern

A paper lantern

After lunch we visited the Impressionist collection again. It’s a family favorite. We really took some time to stop and look and ponder. To take second and third looks, to notice details we’d missed and to step back and see pieces from a distance as well as up close. It’s good to see new things and to revisit old favorites too.

Pausing to examine an interesting canvas after the lunch break: "The Allegory of Art"

Pausing to examine an interesting exhibit in the hall next to the cafeteria after the lunch break: “The Allegory of Art”

"Adoration"

Pausing to examine an interesting exhibit in the hall next to the cafeteria after the lunch break: “Adoration”

Bella looks at Monet's snowy landscapes

Bella looks at Monet’s snowy landscapes

Dom and the kids admire Impressionists

Dom and the kids admire Impressionists

Lucy and Ben look at labels.

Lucy and Ben look at labels.

Lucy and I look at a clock model. She points to the baby

Lucy and I look at a clock model. She points to the baby

Lucy finds the baby.

Lucy finds the baby.

Sophie listens to a lecture.

Sophie listens to a lecture.

Sophie and Bella take a rest.

Sophie and Bella take a rest.

3 Responses to Hokusai at the MFA

  1. Stephanie April 13, 2015 at 5:52 am #

    Looks like a fabulous exhibition. I have just visited Carl Larsson’s home in Sweden and was interested to see many Japanese prints on the walls of the dining room. Hokusai and other print-makers had such an impact when their work first became available in the west. There were Hokusai and other prints on the walls of Monet’s home in Giverny too.

    • Melanie Bettinelli April 14, 2015 at 12:41 am #

      Oh yeah. I’d love to find a book or documentary that explores the relationship between the Impressionists like Monet and Japanese printmakers.

  2. Suburbanbanshee April 17, 2015 at 6:45 pm #

    I don’t know if they told you at the exhibit, but there’s going to be an anime about Hokusai’s artist daughter. (Probably not for kids.)

    Anyway, it’s going to be called Sarusuberi (in Japanese) or Miss Hokusai (in English). Here’s the trailer.

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