Japanese Influence on Art

Japanese Influence on Art
It is interesting how Japanese woodblock prints of the 19th century would influence Western art even until today. I will discuss one print that is hugely popular and why.

We may know how and why the Mona Lisa is the most recognizable painting in the world. But what is the woodblock print by a Japanese artist considered second in recognition? It is "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" (1831) by Hokusai.

Hokusai's print "The Great Wave" is from "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fiji" (1823-1830?). Ten of the works are entirely in blue tones. In Japanese it was called Berlin blue, in English it is called Prussian blue. Used for both the sky and sea, it was a color more resistant to fading. More importantly, blue is a soothing color.

In the print, the wave may overtake the people in the small boat. (Or not.) Mount Fuji in the background represents hope.

We see Japanese woodblock prints as early as the early 1790s. They can be found in the collection of Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

In the early 1860s, these prints, known as ukiyo-e were available for sale. These mass-produced prints were for the enjoyment of the commoners of Edo (former name for Tokyo).

With the onset of international expositions, beginning with the Exposition Universelle Paris in 1867, there was an exhibition by the Japanese government.
This would be followed in the US by the Centennial Expo in Philadelphia, PA in 1876, and the World's Columbian Expo Chicago, IL in 1893.

In Paris there were expositions in 1878, 1889, and 1900.
Artists worldwide would have seen these prints and would be influenced by the beauty of the Far East.

James Abbott McNeil Whistler was an American born artist, living in the UK. Upon his return from Paris, he introduced ukiyo-e prints to the people of London. His "Nocturne in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket" (1875) and "Nocturne: The Thames at Battersea" (1878) show the strong Japanese influence.

Whistler's painting "Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen" (1864) shows a girl wearing a kimono in front of a Japanese folding screen, admiring landscape prints by Ando Hiroshige, an artist whose works Whistler admired and collected.

Those Hiroshige prints shown in Whistler's painting are from "Views of Famous Places in the 60-odd Provinces" (1855).

Ukiyo-e prints can be seen in the background of Edouard Manet's “Portrait of Emile Zola” (1868) and Vincent van Gogh's "Portrait of Pere Tanguy."

The Japanese influence can be seen in Claude Monet's "La Japonaise" (1876), with his wife Camille dressed in a kimono, holding a fan. This painting can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston.

Vincent van Gogh made direct copies in oil of two (2) Hiroshige designs from the "One Hundred Views of Edo" series and can be seen beautifully in his "Bridge in the Rain"(1889).

French Impressionist Edgar Degas' "The Tub" (1886) was influenced by Utagawa Kunisada's "Chrysanthemum" woodblock print of 1820 of a woman bathing.

After attending the Paris Expo of 1890, American artist Mary Cassatt painted "The Letter" (1890-1891), a woman in a domestic interior, a subject that she would favor.

Post Impressionist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, influenced by the design and subject of the ukiyo-e prints, created the color lithograph "Divan Japonais" (1892-1893).

These simple (yet detailed) Japanese prints would later influence the Art Nouveau movement in France, the Arts and Craft and the Aesthetic movement in the UK.

For the betterment of humanity, "The Great Wave" has inspired serious artists as well as producers of kitsch by addressing pollution to oceans, threats of tsunami, and other natural disasters.

To find contemporary work inspired by Hokusai's print, simply Google 'wave art'. Voila!

Related Articles
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map

Content copyright © 2023 by Camille Gizzarelli. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Camille Gizzarelli. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Camille Gizzarelli for details.