Debussy loved ukiyo-e, the genre of Japanese woodblock prints that flourished from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Ukiyo-e, which means “pictures of the floating world,” depicted landscapes, historical scenes, and images from the theater and pleasure quarters. There was a vogue for Japanese art in France, known as japonisme, after the West forced Japan into contact with it in the mid 19th-century. Debussy collected Japanese prints and netsuke figurines. He selected Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa as the cover image on the published score of La mer.
Pictured along with Syrinx are three images from the important collection of ukiyo-e by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1826-1833). They are:
The Great Wave off Kanagawa
South Wind, Clear Sky
Under Mannen Bridge at Fukugawa
The fourth work is by the major ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), Full moon over a mountain landscape, from Eight Views of the Province Omi (Omi Hakkei) (1831 and 1837)