My Favourite Painting: Nick Hewer

Countdown presenter Nick Hewer is inspired by a recent trip to Japan to choose this iconic painting.

Nick Hewer on his choice of Hokusai’s The Great Wave

‘I relish travel to distant lands, but long shied away from Japan, the art and culture of which I have admired since childhood. Now, technology has ironed out communication problems, so I set out for Japan earlier this year, armed with my Google Translate app, and happily roamd that intriguing country. I picked The Great Wave as an icon of its art and culture.

‘The Japanese people’s attention to detail in every aspect of life amazed me, from the presentation of food to calligraphy, from the way mundane goods are exquisitely wrapped to their sense of fashion. Everything is driven by the pursuit of excellence in design–apart from their ugly cars.’

Nick Hewer is the presenter of Channel 4 show Countdown and president of The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, founded 75 years ago.

John McEwen on Hokusai and his work

Hokusai (‘Hoax-eye’, the ‘u’ is silent) has influenced artists of every continent for 200 years. The Great Wave has long entered mainstream advertising and graphic art, making this colour woodblock print globally familiar.

Hokusai’s range was astounding in subject and technique, from instruction books, illustrations and prints to paintings of every kind and size. His mastery was demonstrated on a massive and miniature scale.

A portrait of a Zen saint, completed before a public audience, measured 4,000 square feet; a picture of two sparrows was on a grain of rice. Yet he wrote that ‘until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice’.

His art was a spiritual quest that only deepened with age. He hoped at 100 to ‘have achieved a divine state’ in his art and, at 110, ‘every dot and every stroke will be as though alive’.

Of Hokusai’s many books, the three volumes with 102 views of volcanic Mount Fuji are his ultimate tour de force. He regarded Fuji as a talisman of immortality. His One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji ushered in his old age, harnessing the volcano’s immortal power to help achieve his own goal of artistic divinity.

Each view is different. In The Great Wave, Fuji is like a distant wave, as unnoticeable at a glance as the three fishing boats, its distance showing Hokusai’s assimilation of Western perspective. The then new availability of Prussian blue is lavishly exploited.

When Japan emerged from its self-imposed, two-centuries-long, international isolation, the discovery of Hokusai’s art, above all, created the fashion of Japonism that influenced Monet and the Impressionists, van Gogh and the post-Impressionists.