In 1871 Claude Monet stumbled across a pile of Japanese prints in an Amsterdam shop and snapped them up. His discovery transformed Western perceptions of Japan (though Japanese art had first arrived in the West some decades earlier), inspiring artists such as Van Gogh and Whistler, as well as Monet himself, and sparking Japonisme, the enthusiasm for all things Japanese that swept across Europe.
Today Hokusai’s Great Wave is one of the most recognisable images in the world. In fact Westerners tend to equate Japanese art with wood-block prints, which, as Timon Screech writes in Obtaining Images, ‘would have chilled the blood of the shogunate and of most sober-minded people of the period’. To