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Katsushika Hokusai’s Iconic ‘Great Wave’ Print Fetches a Record $2.8 Million at Auction

The woodblock print, circa 1831, was expected to fetch between $500,000 and $700,000.

Katsushika Hokusai: Kanagawa oki nami ura (Under the well of the Great Wave off Kanagawa), ca. 1831 Courtesy of Christie's

Katsushika Hokusai woodblock print sold at Christie’s in New York for $2.8 million on Tuesday.

The sale hit a new record high for the print, which was only expected to fetch between $500,000 and $700,000. In a thirteen minute battle for the work, six bidders drove up the price, The Wall Street Journal reports. The winner was an anonymous telephone bidder.

The last time the print came up for auction in 2021, it surpassed its low estimate of $150,000 by bringing in 10 times as much at $1.6 million.

Hokusai’s iconic 1830–32 woodblock print, Under the Well of the Great Wave off Kanagawa, is the Japanese painter’s signature piece. In it, Tokyo-bound boaters confront a tsunami, with Mount Fuji visible in the background.

Hokusai’s series of wave prints, started in the early 1800s, are among his most famous. In the mid-19th century, they were introduced to the European market. The artist was a septuagenarian in financial need when the Great Wave print was first produced.

Today, the Great Wave has become particularly popular among Japanese collectors.

It is unclear how many copies of the print were made and, of those, how many still exist in the world. The most sought after, however, are the early ones whose lines are sharper, because the woodblock used to produce them was not yet worn, and additionally contain a subtle cloud outlined against a pink sky—two notably attributes of the print that just sold.

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