Japanese Woodcuts

Two grooms wash a horse next to a magnificent waterfall in a dramatic Z-shaped composition by the Japanese woodcut master Hokusai. The image is based on a legend about the great military leader Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-89) who washed his horse in the Horse-washing Falls among the mountains of the Yoshino District in Yamato Province. The woodcut is from Hokusai's series: A Tour of Waterfalls in the Provinces.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Hästtvätt-fallet, ca 1832. Japanskt träsnitt. NM-1955-0264. Östasiatiska museet. Foto: Karl Zetterström.

In Japan, the horse symbolised masculinity and stamina and was ridden by the samurai. They were seen as being noble, wise and pure animals, and, as pack and draught animals, the horse was said to be one of mankind's most loyal friends in the animal kingdom. Many legends tell of horses who refuses to eat when their masters have died or when they have become too old to serve their owner. The wave-like movements of a horse can be interpreted as like the ebb and flow of life.