The history of art isn’t short of painters and sculptors so famous and influential they only need a single name. Think Titian, Picasso, Rembrandt or Warhol. Think Rodin, Bernini, Michelangelo.

Printmakers are generally a less starry bunch but even here there is a mononymed superstar – Hokusai, the Japanese artist whose most famous work is an 1831 woodblock titled The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. It shows an ominously large wave – product of a tsunami, perhaps? – curling over three fishermen’s barges with a snow-capped Mount Fuji in the background.

It’s hard to be sure, but claims are made for Hokusai’s image being the most widely reproduced in the entire history of art, whether Eastern or Western. Certainly it features on everything from gable-end murals and laptop cases to training shoes, posters, mugs, T-shirts and calendars. You can even buy a stick-on “skin” of the image for your PlayStation controller.

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Scottish art lovers have a chance to experience the work of Katsushiki Hokusai up close next month when a new exhibition devoted to printmaking and printmakers opens at Edinburgh’s Royal Scottish Academy. No Giant Wave, sadly, but one of the show’s centrepieces is his woodblock print, Sudden Shower Below The Summit.

On loan from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which describes it as one of Hokusai’s most renowned works, it is from the same series as The Great Wave, a collection of prints he made called Thirty-Six Views Of Mount Fuji. But subtract those 36 from the number of works Hokusai produced over the course of his long career and the total is still massive – more than 4000 illustrations delving into all aspects of Japanese life as well as hundreds more which went well beyond the realms of the known world and into fantasy and folklore. There are even designs for kimonos and kimono patterns.

The Herald: Rembrandt, Christ Presented to the People (Ecce Homo), dated 1655Rembrandt, Christ Presented to the People (Ecce Homo), dated 1655 (Image: Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn)

Beginning in 1814, these woodblock prints of Hokusai’s work were published as Hokusai Manga and became an immediate bestseller, eventually running to 15 volumes and nearly pages. They were still being produced three decades after Hokusai’s death aged 88 in 1849. And they travelled well beyond Japan, with European artists such as Degas, Gauguin and Klimt collecting his works and the books themselves influencing everyone from the Impressionists to the pioneers of Art Nouveau. His work was in the vanguard of the Japonism movement of the late-19th century, a craze for all things Japanese, and Degas himself said: “Hokusai is not just one artist among others in the Floating World. He is an island, a continent, a whole world in himself.”

That influence carried on into the 20th and 21st centuries too. The word “manga” used by Hokusai in his title is a contraction of the Japanese “manzen to egaita ga”, meaning “whimsically drawn pictures”, and today it describes an entire genre of Japanese comics. These in turn spawned the anime film genre of which Studio Ghibli is a part. So while mid-20th century cartoonist and illustrator Osamu Tezuka is generally regarded as the father of the modern manga, Hokusai is the granddaddy of the form, both for gifting us the word and for stylistic innovations which, though he was working in the first half of the 19th century, still look bang up-to-date.

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As the editors of a recent pocket-sized reissue of Hokusai Manga point out, Hokusai put his illustrations into comic book-style frames (there’s one called Vertical Horizontal which shows the same figure with different facial expressions). He exploited (and played with) the limitations of the printed page. And in applying movement and the concept of time passing to his image sequences, he anticipates animation.

The Herald: Pablo Picasso, Portrait of a Young Girl, after Cranach the Younger, 1958 and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1899Pablo Picasso, Portrait of a Young Girl, after Cranach the Younger, 1958 and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1899 (Image: unkown)

“If Hokusai had been born a few decades later, he may well have been involved in the world of anime and films,” writes Hokusai scholar Nagata Seiji. “Had he lived in the modern world, he could even have become one of the pioneers of 3D, such was the scope of his curiosity towards new technology and media.”

It’s no surprise then that his work adorns PlayStation controllers.

Covering 500 years of endeavour, The Printmaker’s Art features other artists besides Hokusai. There are examples of work by Rembrandt, Picasso and Warhol alongside prints by Paula Rego, Bridget Riley, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, Goya, Cornelia Parker, Albrecht Dürer and – because no survey of prints could be complete without him – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The Rembrandt work is a large 1655 religious study, Christ Presented To The People (Ecce Homo), intricately-rendered in the drypoint technique which involved careful etching into copperplate using a sharp point. Picasso is represented by a 1958 linocut, Portrait Of A Young Girl After Cranach The Younger, and Goya by a plate from Los Disparates, the fantastical series of drypoint prints and engravings he made between 1819 and 1823. Toulouse-Lautrec’s contribution is the last poster to feature his most celebrated subject, Jane Avril, a can-can dancer at the Moulin Rouge. It dates from 1899.

Among local artists featured are Tessa Lynch, Lucy Skaer, Lucy McKenzie and Christian Noelle, all Glasgow-born or Glasgow-based. They exhibit works newly-purchased for the national collection through the Iain Paul Fund.

“The exhibition gives visitors a chance to come face to face with many revered artists from the last 500 years,” says Sir John Leighton, outgoing Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland. “This is also a chance to put our home-grown printmakers in the spotlight, proudly displaying work by contemporary artists who are consistently pushing the boundaries of creativity in Scotland and beyond.”

The Printmaker’s Art: Rembrandt To Rego opens at the National Galleries Scotland: National (Royal Scottish Academy) on December 2 (until February 25)