The Great Picture Book of Everything

Two hundred years after Hokusai’s death, an unpublished collection of drawings has resurfaced which will be exhibited at the British Museum in September. The works are a group of 103 small hanshita-e, final drawings used to produce the key blocks in Ukiyo-e prints. These drawings are typically destroyed as part of the print process but because these were never published, the original drawings have remained intact, preserved in a custom-made wooden box. 

The works were envisioned for an encyclopedia titled Banmotsu ehon daizen zu (The Great Picture Book of Everything). Surprisingly they were created during a period of Japanese lockdown under the Tokugawa shogunate that forbade travel abroad from 1639 to 1859. As such, they are works that champion the imagination. Hokusai’s vision traverses continents and dynasties to the roots of human civilization. 

See an introductory review on the exhibition by Hyperallergic or visit the British Museum website for more information.

Image Reference: Katsushika Hokusai, “A bolt of lightning strikes Virūdhaka dead,” from Banmotsu ehon daizen zu (Illustrations for The Great Picture Book of Everything), block-ready drawing, ink on paper, Japan, 1820s–40s. (© The Trustees of the British Museum)