Drawings by Hokusai and His Students at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

Thursday 15 June, 2023
6:00pm BST - 7:00pm BST


Online lecture, via Zoom.
50 min lecture followed by Q&A.
Free and open to all, booking essential.
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Dr Sarah E. Thompson (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

About the Talk

Among the rich holdings of Japanese art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, are a number of drawings by Hokusai and his students. A few of these have been known to the scholarly world since the 1920s, but the bulk of them are only now beginning to be studied. Most of these drawings are thought to have been purchased in Japan in the 1880s by William Sturgis Bigelow and donated to the MFA in 1911 as part of Bigelow’s enormous collection. According to Ernest Fenollosa, the MFA’s first curator of Japanese art, his friend Bigelow purchased the entire contents of the studio of the artist Hokusen, who in his youth had been a student of Hokusai.

We know very little about the artist Hokusen, and unfortunately Bigelow did not keep meticulous records of his purchases, but we assume that the numerous drawings in Hokusai’s style that have been at the MFA for over a century are in fact from the group that Fenollosa referred to. Most of them are student drawings of widely varying levels of skill, but a few appear to be by Hokusai himself. This talk will introduce some of the most interesting discoveries so far, with more such finds to come as an international group of scholars continue to study the drawings in greater detail.

About the Speaker

Sarah E. Thompson is one of three curators of Japanese art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her main specialty is Japanese woodblock prints. With an A.B. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from Columbia, she taught Japanese and Asian art at schools including Vassar College, Oberlin College, and the University of Oregon before coming to the MFA in 2004. From 2005 to 2010, she worked with dozens of MFA staff, volunteers, and visiting scholars from Japan and elsewhere to create an online database of the Japanese print collection, with digital images and bilingual cataloguing. She has published numerous books and articles and has curated many exhibitions, including “Hokusai” at the MFA in 2015, “Showdown! Kuniyoshi vs. Kunisada” in 2017, “Tattoos in Japanese Prints” at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco in 2019, and “Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence” currently at the MFA.

Image: Album of miscellaneous sketches including designs for artisans, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.46044

Accession Numbers & Object Details – Drawings by Hokusai and His Students at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK.