Friday, May 1, 2009

New Discoveries

I am sitting in the sun room – rain is rustling on the roof, the kids are playing with their friends. My eyes keep lingering on the cover of the book on Japonisme, "The Japanese influence on Western art since 1858." This book has been the source of my interminable interest for several months now. Theoretical, broad knowledge about influence of oriental culture on the West exists in my head for a long time. But seeing side by side illustrations that demonstrate these influences in great details, forged much deeper understanding of it. It helped me to see how a single pose, a small gesture, unexpected colour combination was borrowed, processed and weaved into the paintings of western artists. It also made me realize how liberating, exciting, and inspirational it must have been to discover such alien world of art for the western artists. Our modern eyes are conditioned to see and accept as natural variety of artistic styles while in the second part of the 19th century the rules of what considered to be a proper painting were still rigid. How exuberant it must have been to see new ways of organizing the picture plain, discover new range of subject matter, new techniques, new colour palette, new artistic devices. No wonder that so many artists, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse – Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, to name a few, were mesmerized and heavily influenced by Japanese art.

It is also utterly fascinating that the moment when Japonisme became possible is so clearly defined in history. March of 1854, the treaty of Kanagawa, the end of 216 years of Japanese isolation. Isn’t it interesting that the signing of the political document had such an enormous influence on European and American art? The treaty had allowed Japanese artifacts and handicraft articles to be brought in Europe where in no time they became all the rage. Shops selling kimonos, antiquities, fans, and woodblock prints appeared one after another. Exhibitions showed Japanese art objects to the public. Artists inspired by new forms found new ways of expressing themselves. How extraordinary and at the same time logical.

Below are the most telling examples of japonisme (the term was coined by French art critic Philippe Burty to describe the craze for all things Japanese):

Claude Monet, Madame Monet in a kimono, 1876

Kitagawa Utamaro, Japanese woman (detail); Joseph Wacherle, Lady of fashion, 1907

Edgar Dega, Nude woman, standing (detail), 1886; Katsushika Hokusai, Sumo wrestler, 1814-78, from Manga

Edgar Dega, Dancer tying her ribbons, c.1880; Katsushika Hokusai, Sparrow dance, 1814-78, From Manga

Katsushika Hokusai, Man washing, 1814-78, From Manga; Edgar Dega, The bath-tub, 1886

Ando Hiroshige, Ohashi bridge in the rain, 1856-58, from 100 Views of Famous Places in Edo; Vincent van Gogh, Japonaiserie: the bridge, 1886-88, copy after Hiroshige

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