The National Museum of Asian Art’s Freer Gallery of Art Presents Hokusai: Mad about Painting

By East City Art Editorial Team on July 12, 2021
Breaking Waves by Katsushika Hokusai.
Opening: Friday, July 16, 2021

Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai may be best known for his iconic woodblock print, Great Wave off Kanagawa, yet few are familiar with another work—a breathtaking painting titled Breaking Waves—that was created 15 years later at the height of his career. Now that rarely seen painting, the culmination of Hokusai’s lifelong effort to capture the sea, will go on view when the Freer Gallery of Art (Jefferson Drive at 12th St. S.W.) reopens Friday, July 16. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery together constitute the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art. (Note: Only the Freer will reopen in July. The Sackler will remain temporarily closed for exhibition construction until November.)

Breaking Waves is one of 50 works on view this summer in Hokusai: Mad about Painting. The exhibition originally opened at the Freer in the fall of 2019 and was on view until the museum closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on its impressive Hokusai collection, the museum is giving visitors the opportunity to see an all-new presentation of works in the Freer. With new artworks being added to the galleries in July and August, visitors will have many reasons to come back throughout the summer. Mad about Painting continues through 2021.

“We are delighted to welcome back visitors to the National Museum of Asian Art to experience not only Hokusai’s masterpieces but also museum favorites such as the Peacock Room and the Cosmic Buddha,” said Chase Robinson, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Asian Art.

Chinese paintings, Indian sculpture, Islamic painting and metalware, Japanese lacquer, Korean ceramics and American art from the late 19th-century aesthetic movement will be on view when the museum reopens.

“Hokusai was an avid observer of the ocean,” said Frank Feltens, the Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art at the museum. “He saw the sea as Japan’s lifeblood, a source of life and bounty through threats of storms, tidal waves and tsunamis. Breaking Waves, created in his final years, shows ocean and land in perfect unison.”

In addition to Breaking Waves, the exhibition includes works large and small, from folding screens and hanging scrolls to paintings and drawings. Also included are rare hanshita-e, drawings for woodblock prints that were adhered to the wood and frequently destroyed in the process of carving the block prior to printing. Among the many featured works are Hokusai’s manga, his often-humorous renderings of everyday life in Japan. “Together, the works reveal an artistic genius,” Feltens said.

A book, Hokusai’s Brush, was designed by Koinuma Keiichi and includes essays and a sampling of Hokusai’s works from the Freer collection. It is available from Smithsonian Books. Support for the exhibition is provided by Mitsubishi Corporation and the Anne van Biema Endowment Fund.

About Hokusai
Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) began sketching at the age of 6. He wished to live to 110 in order to accomplish almost divine mastery of his art, but only made it to 90. A master of color, space and composition, he produced thousands of works throughout his long life and is considered by many to be Japan’s best-known artist. Museum founder Charles Lang Freer recognized Hokusai’s vast abilities before many other collectors. Enchanted by his brushwork and artistic sensibility, Freer assembled the world’s largest collection of Hokusai’s paintings, sketches and drawings.

Museum Hours and Information
The museum’s new hours of operation are Fridays through Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can reserve passes online at or by phone at 800-514-3849, ext.1. The National Museum of Asian Art requires a free timed-entry pass for each visitor. Face coverings are required for visitors 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear face coverings during their visit.

About the National Museum of Asian Art
The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, are located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Committed to preserving, exhibiting and interpreting exemplary works of art, the museum houses exceptional collections of Asian art, with more than 44,000 objects dating from the Neolithic period to today. Renowned and iconic objects originate from China, Japan, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, the ancient Near East and the Islamic world. The Freer Gallery also holds a significant group of American works of art largely dating to the late 19th century. It boasts the world’s largest collection of diverse works by James McNeill Whistler, including the famed Peacock Room. The National Museum of Asian Art is dedicated to increasing understanding of the arts of Asia through a broad portfolio of exhibitions, publications, conservation, research and education.