Monday, March 03, 2008

The influence of Japanese Art

Katsushika Hokusai The Hokusai Sketchbooks (Hokusai manga).
Nagoya: Katano (Eirakuya) Tôshirô, 1814-78.
Woodblock-printed books, 9 in. x 6 1/4 in. Fifteen volumes.
Japanese Section, Asian Division (43)(LC-USZC4-8635) Library of Congress exhibition/website
Japanese Art - ukiyo-e woodblock prints and the artists who produced them influenced virtually all the nineteenth century artists I studied in 2007. I've been intrigued by them ever since I saw all the Japanese prints ......on the walls of Monet's dining room at Giverny and I want to know more about them. I'll also focus on those artists who drew landscapes such as Hokusai and Hiroshige. I also want to look at methods used for composition and how they used colour.
Making A Mark in 2008 - The Plan
My plan for the next two months involves a project about the Japanese Art and artists who have influenced western art.

There's something about Japanese Art which draws me in. I'm not sure quite what it is however I'm very sure that learning more about it will help me with the development of my own drawings and artwork. It had a significant impact on the artists who I studied last year so I feel that being open to its influence can only be beneficial.

I'm going to look first at resources and then at how I might usefully frame my approach to this project.

However first, I'd like people to note that this is a journey of discovery for me. Three important points to note then.
  1. My posts are a summary for me of what I've found out. If I find something out which means I now understand I've made a mistake or missed out an important piece of information I'm going to go back and change a post.
  2. I'll probably understand 'the whole' and 'the parts' better at the 'end' of the journey than I will while I'm on it. I'm already finding that I'm understanding the artists from last year much better through what I've been recently reading. I'll summarise and capture the key messages for me at the end and maybe while still on the journey as well.
  3. As it's a journey of discovery, then - using some travel metaphors - it's highly likely that the journey will also involve one or more of the following:
    • garbled instructions (how something gets from a to z might not be fully explained! Tips from those who understand the route or what I'm looking at better than I do will be most welcome.);
    • diversions down interesting looking paths I come across (the scenic route!);
    • air traffic control problems - too much coming at me from too many different directions!
    • stop overs - while I cope with information overload and take time to reflect!


This is what I've got so far:
Andô Hiroshige. The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige
(Hiroshige gajo), early 1840s. Album of hand-drawn sketches, 10 in. x 6 1/4 in. Two volumes.
Asian Division (28) LC-USZC4-8542) Library of Congress Exhibition/website
    • Books about Japanese Art and Artists - I've been collecting books about Japanese Art since the Autumn when I decided I'd have a major project on Japanese Art. In fact, I'd have to say finding some of the books led to the project! I've looked at a few more as well but not got them as they didn't seem to add much to what I'd got already.


Book reviews
I'f I have time I'll do more thorough book reviews of the books I've bought. Here are some mini reviews of my books for those who want to learn more and may be thinking about following this project and joining in. My books are:
  • Japonisme - the Japanese Influence on Western Art since 1858 by Siegfried Wichmann (Thames and Hudson 1981; paperback 1999; reprinted 2007) This is a BIG book and has 432 pages and a huge number of illustrations - 1,105 in total of which 243 are in colour. The author is a German historian and art curator who chronicles Japan's tremendous influence on the great artists and the decorative art of the 19th- and 20th-century. I have this book and it is superb at demonstrating how Japanese Art crossed over to influence both art and decoration in the West. You can click the link and view various pages of the book - although in my opinion they've got chosen the ones which illustrate this point best.
  • Japanese Prints (Taschen 25th Anniversary)by Gabriele Fahr-Becker (Taschen 2007) Hardback - 200 pages. This book is well produced and image quality is good. It provides an overview of the origins and history of ukiyo-e prints came about and provides commentaries on all the colour plates together with a very helpful glossary of technical terms and biographies of all the artists whose work is included in the book. It provides examples of famous prints and a good spread of prints by various artists which demonstrates the range of work being produced in different genres. All in all a very helpful introduction to Japanese Prints - and an excellent book for anybody who is new to this topic and/or who wants an introductory text which is not too expensive.
  • Hokusai, First Manga Master (Paperback) by Jocelyn Bouquillard (Author), Christophe Marquet (Author). (Abrams 2007) Hokusai (1760-1849) is the most well known of the ukiyo-e masters and The Great Wave off Kanagawa is as iconic in art history as a number of masterpieces from the western world. He was the first to become widely known in the west. the Hokusai Manga is series of 15 volumes published in the Edo period between 1814 and 1878 and is in effect an encyclopaedia of images - with some 4,000 of Hokusai's rough and impromptu sketches. This books contains a selection of just 60 of the most significant. They depict both objects and the living world and included candid sketches of all social classes - courtesans, peasants, actors and acrobats plus views of Mount Fuji and waves! For those who want to learn to draw like Hokusai this is the book - the manga was originally intended as a model for artists and craftsman eager to learn the art of drawing.
  • Hokusai: Mountains and Water, Flowers and Birds by Matthi Forrer (Prestel - Pegasus Series 2004) (Paperback - 96 pages) This book is a digest. It contains a number of prints of the sort I'm more interested in - flowers and landscapes (as the title suggests).
  • Hiroshige by Matthi Forrer (Author), Suzuki Juzo (Author), Henry D. Smith (Author) Prestel (Paperback - 256 pages) This book of essays and a catalogue of plates of Hiroshige's prints demonstrate how he is "the master of the passing moment - the artist of mist, snow, and rain." Each plate has a commentary and there are also introductory essays which looks at his life and work and how it fits into Japanese art and the overall social and political context. It also includes maps, a chronology, a glossary and a bibliography.
  • Degas and the Art of Japan by Jill DeVonyar (Author), Richard Kendall (Author) This is stunning book - giving a perspective on Degas's work which few will have realised existed. Degas assembled his own collection of Ukiyo-e prints and several of his friends were leading authorities at the time on artists such as Hokusai, Utamaro, and Hiroshige. My jaw kept dropping the whole time I was reading and looking at plates comparing different images. The book relates to this 2007 exhibition at the Reading Public Museum. It's an absolute 'must read' for anybody interested in Degas' work even if you're not a fan of Japanese art.
Profiles of individual artists
I'm expecting to do blog posts reviewing the life and work of Hokusai and Hiroshige and maybe Utamaro and possibly others I come across on my travels. I'll be drawing on the resources which are contained in their respective information sites and well as the books I'm reading.

Context for the development of ukiyo-e
I want to understand better how the woodblock printing started and how the process worked. Plus I'd like to get a better understanding about dates and the historical context within Japan and in relation to the west.

Compositional devices learned from Japan
The Japanese opened people's eyes to news ways of organising subject matter within the pictue plane. I'm thinking along the lines of devoting individual posts to the use of:
  • the silhouette
  • the diagonal principle
  • a grille pattern
  • cut-off objects in the foreground
  • assymetrical compositions - with large areas of empty space
  • perspective use of stacks of layers and levels
Formats derived from Japan
As with the above, I'll be looking at the formats derived from Japanese Art including:
  • the tall vertical format
  • folding screen
  • fan leaf
Subject matter
The art of the Far East makes a virtue of the detail, of seeming to pick out the signicant part of some hypothetically larger compositions and this was a feature that in Europe had a particularly enduring effect in the work of the Impressionists, the Symbolists and even the Expressionists.
Japonisme: The Japanese Influence on Western Art Since 1858 by Siegfried Wichmann
I'm finding some of the subject matter very interesting and other aspects (eg kabuki actors) much less so. Subject matter which I may well post about include:
  • the wave and its ornamental form
  • new types of posture and movement
  • the abstraction of nature - particularly in relation to flowers and trees in blossom
  • the rock in the sea
Making connections
In particular, I'll be exploring the connections between Japanese Art and various artists including:
  • Hokusai and the drawing techniques developed by Vincent Van Gogh after he started to collect prints and learn about Japanese Art (he was a serious 'fan' - the prints are in some of his paintings)
  • ukiyo-e's impact on Whistler
  • the influence on the composition and artwork work of Degas of
    • the scenes from brothels and washhouses
    • cropping and asymmetry used by Japanese artists
  • Mary Cassatt and drawings of women
Other connections apparently include: Toulouse Lautrec and the Mie grimace of the Kabuki Theatre, Gauguin and ishizuri technique and Vallottan and chinese stone rubbing.

So that's it so far. I've got a lot of reading to do but I'm hoping for a 1-2 posts per week - and some new artwork as a result. I've already had a quick bash at a long vertical format and it's interesting..........

If anybody would like to participate in the project please leave a comment to say so and I'll check your blog. As with all my other projects, I'll link back to participating blogs in a summary post towards the end of April (or whenever the project ends). I'm also always pleased to receive any suggestions as to the websites or gallery collections which might be useful.

Note: The two square illustrations were derived by me from prints by Hokusai.


  1. Well, I'm glad that I'm not the only one who is intimidated and feel like I might not get it right the first time!

    Great summary and kick off with resources as per your usual Katherine!

  2. Thanks Rose.

    For me, it just feels a bit odd to just parachute into the nineteenth century Japan without looking at what went on beforehand. A bit like I felt when looking at the painters last year and realising that they had ALL been influenced by Japanese Art.

    I'm just finding it difficult at the moment trying to get my head round what happened when - given that all the names are 'foreign' and hence have no meaning for me as yet. At the moment I'm just trying to sort out a very basic art history backdrop so that I've got a chance of beginning to see how thing's fit together.

    But where does the beginning begin???

  3. I found the same thing, I've read through the intro section of the Taschen book, and my head was spinning! (I thought to myself, well Katherine will sort this out... ;-)

    For the moment, I'm just looking at the dominance of line in the prints. Several months back I found some modern practioners of ukiyo-e. They do some incredible landscapes. I'll have to find those links again.

  4. That would be great Rose - I think that's the bit I haven't even begiun to think about tackling yet.

    That's the great thing about having more people involved with the project as well - "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" ;)

  5. "For me, it just feels a bit odd to just parachute into the nineteenth century Japan without looking at what went on beforehand."

    The Meiji revolution is key to western understanding of Japan. Sort of a beginning for so many things there. If it were I, I would start there (19th C.)and not bother so much with the before.

    I'll be looking closely at your study - thanks for doing this.

  6. I am very interested in this subject. My mother started collecting Japanese prints when I was very young so I have been surrounded by Japanese art most of my life. I studyied from a Japanese master for a short period of time about 40 years ago. I would like to participate on this project and will let you know when I get something posted. Thanks for starting this journey.

  7. Thanks for the tip Casey

    Miki - I'd love to hear about what your mothers prints and what the Japanese Master had to say.

  8. I can't wait to get started on Japonisme, Katherine. This post is a fantastic start but I've only been able to dip in a couple of times because a dreaded oil painting has me by the throat :(
    Yours in appreciation and anticipation.


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