Katsushika Hokusai, ‘The Hundred Poems [By the Hundred Poets] as Told by the Nurse: Tenchi Tenno’, Scholten Japanese Art

signed Zen Hokusai manji, with censor's seal Kiwame and publisher's seal Eijudo (Nishimuraya Yohachi) at lower right, Perrine collector's seal on verso, ca. 1835-6
oban yoko-e 10 1/4 by 14 3/4 in., 26 by 37.6 cm
This is the first design from Hokusai's uncompleted series, The Hundred Poems as Told by the Nurse, which was the last major single sheet series Hokusai designed before he devoted his remaining years primarily to painting commissions. Of the intended series of one hundred, only twenty-seven prints are known to have been completed; an additional sixty-four designs survive in the form of preparatory drawings.

The publisher Nishimura Yohachi originally commissioned the series, but for unknown reasons, his firm, Eijudo, ceased to exist by late 1835. After issuing only five prints with Nishimura's Eijudo seal in the spring of 1835, the series was then taken over by the publisher Ise Sanjiro's firm, Iseri. The remaining twenty-two published prints bear a different seal which also can be read Eijudo, an intriguing nod to the apparently defunct (or perhaps acquired) Eijudo firm.

Hokusai based this series on the well-known anthology of poems, the Hyakunin Isshu (A Hundred Poems by a Hundred Poets), compiled by the poet Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. The collected verses were (and continue to be) familiar to most Japanese in some format, including a shell matching game (similar to 'concentration'), where the challenge was to match the poet painted on the interior of one shell to their verse painted on the interior of another shell. Hokusai approaches the poems from the perspective of an uneducated wet-nurse, allowing for seemingly simple-minded mistakes or misinterpretations which add a light-hearted quality to his renditions.

The poem in the cartouche is by Emperor Tenchi Tenno (628-681), who reigned from 688-671. In the poem the Emperor takes shelter during an autumn rain in the field hut of a common rice farmer.
Aki no ta no
Kario no io no
Toma wo arami
Waga koromode wa
Tsuyu ni nure-tsutsu
Coarse the rush-mat roof
Sheltering the harvest-hut
Of the autumn rice-field
And my sleeves are growing wet
With the moisture dripping through
The poem demonstrates the Emperor's empathy for his hard-toiling people. Although he describes the rain dampening his sleeves, the image of wet sleeves was a common metaphor for weeping (the word 'tsuyu' can mean dewdrops or tears).

Series: The Hundred Poems [By the Hundred Poets] as Told by the Nurse

Image rights: Scholten Japanese Art

Publisher: Nishimuraya Yohachi

Peter Morse, One Hundred Poets, 1989, p. 26-27, no. 1

About Katsushika Hokusai

Adhering to a common Japanese practice with extreme frequency, Katsushika Hokusai transitioned between upwards of 30 pseudonyms throughout his career, each correlating to a different period or style. Despite the many changes, his surname prevails—Hokusai—which unites the surplus of monikers into a single legacy for the artist, printmaker, and ukiyo-e painter. In his early work, Hokusai depicted the traditional subject matter of ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings, Kabuki actors; however, he monumentally revolutionized the medium by shifting his focus to landscapes and images of daily life in Japan. Hokusai is best-known for his woodblock series, “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” (1831), which mastered the landscape while exploring the relationship between man and environment, and contained the The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which remains one of the most universally recognized icons of Japanese art.

Japanese, 1760-1849, Tokyo, Japan, based in Tokyo, Japan