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First Look: ‘Hokusai (1760–1849)’ at the Grand Palais

28 September 2014

An important exhibition of the work of the prolific and long-lived Japanese artist Hokusai is opening at the Grand Palais. We spoke to one of the curators of the exhibition, Laure Dalon, to find out more.

Click here for a gallery of highlights…

Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition?

The exhibition at the Grand Palais is the biggest show ever devoted to Hokusai outside Japan. It spans the whole of his very long life and shows examples of all the techniques he used, including some that are not so well known.

What makes this a distinctive show?

Each piece has been carefully chosen for both its place in Hokusai’s oeuvre as well as its own intrinsic value. All the pictures in the exhibition are very delicately executed and all the engravings are very high quality prints. The collection includes such a wide range of important examples of Hokusai’s work that it is difficult to overemphasise its importance.

How did you come to curate this exhibition?

The chief curator of the exhibition is Seiji Nagata who is one of the great Japanese specialists on the artist. As a museum curator on the organising committee of the Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, I have been working with Seiji Nagata and his team to help to present and adapt their encyclopaedic knowledge for the benefit of visitors to the Grand Palais, who are often French and European and less familiar with Japanese culture and codes than Japanese visitors.

What is likely to be the highlight of the exhibition?

The Hokusai Manga is an extremely important part of the exhibition. This is an anthology of 15 outstanding sketchbooks produced by Hokusai from 1814. This is the essence of his work and reveals most clearly his powers of observation and the quality of his imagination. Never before has an exhibition shown so many pages of this important collection.

'Dragon flying over Mount Fuji' (1849), Hokusai. The Hokusai Museum. This work is presented between 1 and 27 OctoberAnd what’s been the most exciting personal discovery for you?

Personally I have been absolutely fascinated by the quality, beauty and poetry of the work accomplished by Hokusai at the end of his life. Until now I knew very little about these works, which I believe will be a great discovery for the majority of visitors.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?

These pieces are extremely fragile and so can only be on display for a short time. We had to think carefully about the logistics of displaying them in rotation so that visitors can discover these wonderful pieces of art and see them in context. But there is always something rewarding in the exhibition despite these many constraints .

How are you using the gallery space? What challenges will the
hang/installation pose?

The main challenge is how to display these mostly small works of art in a large exhibition space so that everyone is able to appreciate their detail and subtlety. Our display team came up with the idea of a putting the pictures in alcoves, which act like cabinets, enabling them to be extremely carefully illuminated.

Which other works would you have liked to have included?

The exhibition opens with works by 19th-century French artists who were inspired by Hokusai’s art. This serves as an introduction before the visitor is immersed in Hokusai’s own work. This is one of the strengths of this comprehensive exhibition, which can however only show a tiny selection of the huge amount of work produced by this artist, who died aged nearly 90.

‘Hokusai (1760–1849)’ is at the Grand Palais from 1 October–18 January 2015. The exhibition will be closed from 21–30 November so that fragile works can be exchanged.