Thursday, March 20, 2014

Impressionism (pt. 9)

One of the major influences on late 19th century Impressionism was Japanese woodblock prints.  Artists like Vincent Van Gogh would later directly mimic this Japanese style in some of his works, but early Impressionist artists like Claude Monet took inspiration from the subject matter of these prints (which usually showed nature scenes of pastoral Japan).  The Japanese had invented an inexpensive way of printing a century earlier.  They used wood blocks with varying colors of ink and would apply them all to the same piece of paper.  These prints did not show depth, perspective, or shading, but the Impressionists took interest in their unique depiction of nature that characteristically described a thing in addition to merely showing it.
The Japanese artists Hokusai and Hiroshige had produced images like this (the above is a print by Hokusai) approximately fifty years earlier, and their work quickly attained European notoriety as a result of Japan's reentrance onto the world stage after nearly two centuries of national isolationism.  Near the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, Japan's foreign policy laws of domestic seclusion were superseded by a series of international treaties which once again opened up trade between Japan and the Western world (Europe and America).  Japanese finery soon became a popular fashion in Europe and grew to heavily influence an entire generation of artists entering into the 20th century.  This ensuing influence over Western art became known as Japonism.
This painting by Claude Monet shows one of his other staple subjects (added to the haystacks and architectural façades) combined with a Japanese influence.  We see a pond of water lilies in a garden that is explosively verdant with lush greenery.  Stretching across the pond we see a wooden Japanese-style footbridge.  Here the artist has simply taken from the subject matter of Japanese art, but later Impressionists would adopt the techniques of Japanese artists.  Earlier artists, like Manet, had already found inspiration in certain stylistic elements of woodblock prints, such as their flat sense of depth perception.  (Manet adapted this technique into his own Modern style to create a wholly new type of art which he believed would define the Modern Era).  Other elements of woodblock prints and Japanese style would continue to influence artists well into the 20th century, but it is perhaps the Impressionists who most rapidly take to the concepts and styles of Japonism.

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