Hokusai’s paintings – issues of authenticity

British Museum, 7-8 October 2016

Ducks in flowing water © Trustees of the British Museum, 1913,0501,0.320

Ducks in flowing water © Trustees of the British Museum, 1913,0501,0.320

Determining the authentic corpus of Hokusai’s paintings is a key element – perhaps the key element – in reconstituting and studying his oeuvre. We have records of exhibitions of Hokusai paintings already from the artist’s lifetime. He recorded detailed instructions on preparing pigments and how to paint particular motifs in Ehon saishiki tsû (Picture book:  Essence of Colouring), published in 1848. The academic ‘art-historical’ approach began with Ernest Fenollosa’s exhibitions and catalogues: at the Boston Museum in 1893; and in Tokyo in collaboration with Kobayashi Bunshichi in 1900. After a century of ongoing research, Nagata Seiji has afforded us the most detailed study to date: Hokusai nikuhitsuga taisei (Shôgakukan, 2000). Many issues remain to be tackled, however.
This workshop aspires to provide a candid forum for debate among scholars who have spent many years – in some cases, decades – studying Hokusai’s painted works. As part of the AHRC-funded research project Late Hokusai: Thought, Technique, Society we would like to broach and explore together diverse issues relating to the paintings, in order to progress research. These could include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • What are the criteria for proposing ‘authenticity’? (Physical properties; stylistic and technical traits; developing themes; signatures and seals; collaboration with contemporaries; context of production, including commissions; provenance)
  • What are the permutations of ‘non-authentic’ works? (Works by pupils [e.g., Ôi] authorised with Hokusai’s signature; unsigned works; copies made as records; pupil works; pastiches; deliberate forgeries)
  • What are the distinct issues for studying Hokusai’s brush drawings?
  • What is the most practical and efficient forum, including online, for bringing together the disparate information on Hokusai’s paintings? (Individual scholarship? Connoisseurship by committee? Open forum? Can BM’s ResearchSpace provide the platform?)
  • What research techniques does digital offer? (Image recognition of signatures and seals? Database of digital details of technique? Mapping against Hokusai and pupil works in other media, and against the chronology of Hokusai’s life? Database of secondary sources, including Hokusai painting manuals, exhibition and auction catalogues?)
  • What further scope is there for scientific analysis of materials? (silk, paper, mountings, pigments, art history of colour)

Day1: Friday 7 October, British Museum
1000 Welcome and problem case studies (TC)
1100  Roundtable individual responses (Henry, Julie, All)
1400 Viewing session, discussion

Saturday 8 October, British Museum
1000 Longer responses (Tadashi, John)
11:00 Next steps


John Carpenter (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Tadashi Kobayashi (Okada Museum of Art)
Elizabeth Coombs (Independent scholar)
Timothy Clark (British Museum)
Alfred Haft (British Museum)
Roger Keyes (Independent scholar)
Angus Lockyer (SOAS University of London)
Ryoko Matsuba (SOAS University of London)
Koto Sadamura (Freer and Sackler Galleries)
Julie Nelson Davis (Freer and Sackler Galleries)
Ellis Tinios (University of Leeds)
Akiko Yano (British Museum)
Yoshitaka Yamamoto (Osaka University)
Stephanie Santschi (British Museum) 
Henry Smith (Columbia University)

Background reading:

  • Gian Carlo Calza and John T Carpenter, eds., Hokusai Paintings -- Selected Essays, Venice, International Hokusai Research Centre, 1994
  • Asano Shûgô, ‘Hokusai no nikuhitsuga no inshô ni tsuite’, Sairen (Chiba City Museum of Art) 1, March 1997, pp. 13-35
  • Nagata Seiji, Hokusai nikuhitsuga taisei, Tokyo, Shôgakukan, 2000
  • John T Carpenter, ed., Hokusai and his Age, Amsterdam, Hotei Publishing, 2005
  • Kubota Kazuhiro, Hokusai musume, Ôi Eijo shû, Tokyo, Geika Shoin, 2015