In a current exhibition at the Asian Art Museum, you can view some interesting comparative paintings between the Hiroshige woodblock prints and famous Impressionists like Van Gogh, Matisse, and Monet. Europeans were fascinated by Japanese artists and emulated these new discoveries. While the pieces by well-known Western painters are limited in number, the exhibition certainly provided a good case for the Japanese inspiration from which the Europeans drew.
Many of the wood blocks by Hiroshige, although small scale and delicate, had very intriguing themes. At the upper left photo, the woodblock depicts a lively scene with trees swaying in the wind and someone chasing after his hat. This scene is one of a series of woodblocks that recorded towns and villages between two major cities. Each one was unique so villagers could distinguish their town from others.
The close-ups close to the picture plane of portraits were also imitated by Westerners eager to draw from sources little known at the time. See the portrait of a Japanese Female Princess character in middle photo above. Japanese decorative arts were also widely copied and emulated, as seen in the photo, above right. While imitation is the greatest form of flattery, I wondered what the Japanese artists thought of Westerners’ borrowing of original ideas. There certainly weren’t copyright infringement laws in place at the time, so it was anyone’s game.
Regardless of the historical backdrop and lingering questions, the exhibition was very enlightening and presented much food for thought. Here are a few comparisons, that show the early precedents of Japanese art followed by paintings of Western artists:
Both the Jugenstijl movement (see my post on Mucha in Prague from May, 2015) and the Art Nouveau style in Europe (see St. Petersburg posts in September 2015), as well as the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, were heavily influenced by Japanese prints and decorative arts. Similarly, Frank Lloyd Wright was heavily affected by Japanese design (see FLW in Chicago post, October 2015).
See the inspiration for the graphic designs for Tiffany and other poster art here:
You can learn more about this exhibition and details of the exhibition, on display until Feb. 7, 2016 at: http://www.asianart.org/exhibitions_index/looking-east
Note: My apologies for not recording the titles or names of the Japanese pieces. While many of the woodblocks in the exhibition were attributed to Hiroshige, there may be other artists whose names I did not note.
For a video on the Goethe Institute at Schwäbisch Hall, where I took a German class for two weeks on language and culture, see here: