Honolulu Museum of Art Curator Finds Rare Book in Collection That Cost $26,000
This find could be the work of the first female manga artist, Hokusai’s daughter.
Editor’s Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lesa Griffith, the museum’s communications director and a talented Hawai‘i writer on arts, culture and food.
Robert F. Lange Foundation curator of Japanese art Stephen Salel.
Photos: Courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art
When the Honolulu Museum of Art acquired the Richard Lane Collection for $26,000, it was an unorganized hoard of Asian paintings and books assembled by the late Kyoto, Japan-based scholar. Yet, since 2003 the collection has yielded happy discoveries, including a rare 16th-century Korean painting and an 18th-century calligraphy by a famed courtesan.
The most recent find is by the museum’s Robert F. Lange Foundation curator of Japanese art, Stephen Salel.
You probably are familiar with the artist Katsushika Hokusai, thanks to his world-renowned woodblock print “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” How about Katsushika Ōi? She was Hokusai’s daughter who, after a brief unhappy marriage, became her father’s assistant while also working on her own accomplished paintings, prints and illustrations.
Salel is deep into research for his 2021 manga exhibition that looks at the profound achievements of female Japanese artists. Since Hokusai is credited with coining the term manga, Salel believes Katsushika Ōi can be dubbed the first female manga artist. Determined to include her work in the show, Salel tracked down her paintings in the collections of the Tokyo National Museum and the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art. He also looked for her work closer to home. “I felt very confident that I could find one of her books in our own collection,” says Salel.
A page from Illustrated Handbook for Daily Life for Women illustrated by Katsushika Ōi, the daughter of Katsushika Hokusai.
He cross-checked a list of all of her known works with unattributed titles in the museum’s database. Then in April, Salel found that among the various copies of the manual Illustrated Handbook for Daily Life for Women (E-iri nichiyô onna chôhô-ki) in the museum’s Richard Lane Collection, one was published in 1847. “That publication date and a stylistic examination of the imagery indicated that the book was indeed by Ōi,” explains Salel. And how did he feel the second he realized all the dots connected? “It was one of those times I felt like I might have made the right career choice.”
Books illustrated by Katsushika Ōi are rare, making Salel’s discovery an important find. The Richard Lane Collection is the acquisition that keeps on giving.
Lesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.