Posts tagged ‘lee jay walker and japanese art’

November 6, 2012

Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: Reality and unreality and the View of Shogetsu Pond

Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: Reality and unreality and the View of Shogetsu Pond

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

If one views the stunning image of the View of Shogetsu Pond by Keisai Eisen, then only images of tranquility, order and a nation at peace comes to mind. It appears that nature, order and a majestic rural life fits smoothly together. Therefore, one can easily depict an image of idealism whereby nature and humanity blend together.

Likewise, if we take this image by itself and try to analyze the artist from such a scenic piece of art, then it would appear that the artist was at peace with himself. After all, buildings are in the background and the natural towering strength of the mountains in the distance seems to imply order and control. Also, the individuals in this piece of art seem in a natural order and the same applies to the pond, trees and every single aspect of the View of Shogetsu Pond.

However, looks can easily be deceiving because the artist Keisai Eisen faced many demons related to drink and owning a brothel. This reality seems a million miles away from the delightful scenery of the View of Shogetsu Pond.

Yet, Keisai Eisen was also known for wit and one never really knows how deep his drinking was. Likewise, was the brothel the “real deal” or something that the artist played up in order to generate rumors and whispers? In this sense, just like the image of the View of Shogetsu Pond, it is clear that many things are a mirage in life but often people change mirages and believe that they are true.

Or, it could just be that Keisai Eisen was disillusioned with the trappings of life. Therefore, this piece of art represents a distant desire within his soul. Yet, of course this is nothing more than pure speculation. In saying that, it is speculation which the artist would appreciate because he was blessed with so many talents related to art and writing.

Keisai Eisen once stated that he was “…a hard-drinking, rather dissolute artist.” This statement is clearly a mirage to reality. After all, Keisai Eisen was blessed with so many skills in the field of art and writing. He clearly knew that many individuals thought highly about his skills and this statement suits the wit of this amazing artist.

Turning back to the brothel comment then it is factual that this type of business did exist in Nezu, Tokyo. Yet, the reasons related to the usage and the role of Keisai Eisen remains debatable. Many individuals have stated various statements about the reality of this brothel. However, these comments are often conflicting. Therefore, speculation remains the order of the day with regards to the true nature of his role in this brothel.

It also could be that the View of Shogetsu Pond by Keisai Eisen lacked any real meaning to the artist. Yet, if you view this one majestic piece of art by itself, then it is nice to dream and think deeply. In this sense, the image and nature of Keisai Eisen represent the mirages of life whereby individuals try to understand the bigger picture. However, in the distance of time, then does the bigger picture mean anything?

http://www.viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/ukiyoetexts/ukiyoe_pages/eisen3.html 

http://www.artelino.com/articles/keisai-eisen.asp 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com 

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

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November 6, 2012

Japanese art, culture and the Yamabushi: Benkei and the loyal warrior monk

Japanese art, culture and the Yamabushi: Benkei and the loyal warrior monk

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

In Japanese culture, history and art, it is clear that Saito no Musashibo Benkei left a lasting impression and this continues today in modern culture. This legendary warrior monk belonged to the intriguing period of the 12th century. He was born in 1155 and died in 1189 after serving the famous Minamoto no Yoshitsune.  The images in this article come from the esteemed toshidama (Toshidama Gallery), whereby you can feel the power of Benkei and visually understand how he was portrayed in Japanese art.

Benkei is famous within the folklore of Japan because of his enormous strength which was matched by great loyalty. In the realm of Japanese art and the majestic ukiyo-e movement, then Benkei provides a wealth of images by many famous artists.

It is noted that he was extremely tall because by the age of seventeen Benkei had reached two meters in height. This is still very tall by the standard of today. On top of this was many other great attributes which belong to his fighting skills and the knowledge he obtained during his travels to many Buddhist monasteries.

Of course, within Japanese folklore and the mysteries of history and Shintoism, then many intriguing stories evolve around Benkei. He firmly belongs to the power and prestige of Buddhism and the warrior class that emerged during this period of Japanese history. However, just like Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all been influenced by the Pagan culture where they developed; this similarly happened to Benkei because the power of Shintoism was fused within many elements of Japanese Buddhism and folklore. Therefore, these intriguing stories about Benkei clearly have survived the test of time because he remains a potent figure today in modern Japan.

Much depends on the Benkei which appeals to the storyteller but within Japanese art and the tradition of ukiyo-e; it is clear that the term Oniwaka is merged within the nature of this famous warrior monk. Oniwaka means the “demon or ogre child.” Of course, many other fascinating stories evolve around Benkei including his deeds on the battlefield. For example, it is stated that he defeated at least 200 military men during major battles throughout his life. This of course may be exaggerated or it may not; yet the point is that his fame within the warrior class appealed greatly when judged with his great physical strength and the loyalty that bestowed him throughout his lifetime.

It is also reported that Benkei in time became a yamabushi (mountain warrior monk) and for this reason he is often depicted in a cap. This fits in well with the yamabushi who had many fine qualities. After all, the yamabushi were not only mighty warriors who were blessed with respective supernatural powers. Equally important, was the ascetic nature of the yamabushi and the exemplary knowledge they held related to the Shugendo doctrine.

The Shugendo doctrine evolved around the fusions and integration of many powerful thought patterns. This applies to the school of Shingon Buddhism and the esoteric nature of this faith, the rich heritage of Shinto, the Tendai Buddhist faith and the great philosophy of Taoism. Therefore, the yamabushi were not just mysterious holy men who had mighty powers in the area of military strength; but equally powerful was the knowledge that each individual had obtained in this world and how they utilized this with the mystery of nature.

His loyalty remains famous today and the Toshidama Gallery sums up Benkei extremely well when it comes to the loyalty of this esteemed individual. Toshidama states that “…he was raised by monks who were both religious and military. As a young man he positioned himself at one end of Gojo Bridge and disarmed travelers of their swords. On reaching his 999th sword he fought with a young nobleman, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who won the battle of the bridge and thereafter Benkei served as his principal retainer. They fought in the Gempei Wars between the Taira clan and their own Minamoto clan.”

If you are intrigued about Benkei then this article is providing just a snippet of the importance of Benkei within many aspects of Japanese culture, history and folklore.

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_473/Toshihide-Portraits-of-Sansho–Ichikawa-Danjuro-IX-as-Benkei-1893.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_391/Kunisada-Benkei-and-Yoshitsune-fighting-on-Gojo-Bridge.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_237/Kunisada-Portrait-of-Benkei.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_246/Yoshitaki-Benkei-and-Yoshitsune-at-Gojo-Bridge.htm

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

July 13, 2012

Pierre Bonnard and Japanese art: powerful thought patterns of Bonnard

Pierre Bonnard and Japanese art: powerful thought patterns of Bonnard

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Pierre Bonnard was born in 1867 in France which was one year before the Meiji Restoration in Japan. His father had hoped that Bonnard would become a barrister but clearly Bonnard was destined for the art world. In the early 1890s Bonnard met the enigmatic Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and throughout this decade his art would develop greatly.

Bonnard stated that “The artist who paints the emotions creates an enclosed world… the picture… which, like a book, has the same interest no matter where it happens to be. Such an artist, we may imagine, spends a great deal of time doing nothing but looking, both around him and inside him.” 

In 1890 it is reported that Bonnard truly came into touch with Japanese art despite first admiring this art form from the late 1880s. From this point onwards the richness of Japanese ukiyo-e remained within his artistic soul. Therefore, Bonnard would collect Japanese art throughout the rest of his lifetime. It must be stated that Japonisme (Japonism) was in vogue in the later part of the nineteenth century within powerful artistic circles. However, the first notable period of the growing influence of Japanese art within the Western artistic consciousness can be traced back to the 1860s. In saying that, the development of Japonism was exceptionally powerful in the last three decades of the nineteenth century.

Other artists who adored Japanese ukiyo-e includes Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Auguste-Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, and many other artists including James Abbot McNeill Whistler. Therefore, Bonnard was following in the footsteps of many artists outside of Japan who fell in love with the rich traditions of ukiyo-e.

Bonnard stated that “Painting has to get back to its original goal, examining the inner lives of human beings.” He also commented that Art will never be able to exist without nature” and that “You cannot possibly invent painting all by yourself.”

Bonnard was a member of an important artistic group during the most formative years of his art. This group was called Nabis which means prophet in the Hebrew language. Other significant members of Nabis include Maurice Denis and Edouard Vuillard. The artists within this group were inspired by new thinking and approaches to art. Therefore, a more personal and extremely decorative style was “set in stone” within an abstract style which was most rewarding.

The nickname of Bonnard highlights the power of Japanese ukiyo-e because he was called the “le Nabi tres Japonard.” It is clear that this nickname was cherished by Bonnard because it means “the ultra-Japanese Nabi.” His art studio also was further evidence of the power of ukiyo-e because individuals who visited him noted paintings by Hiroshige, Kunisada and Kuniyoshi.

Bonnard like Paul Gauguin and other notable artists was a deep thinker. He commented to Henri Mattisse that‘I agree with you that the painter’s only solid ground is the palette and colors, but as soon as the colors achieve an illusion, they are no longer judged, and the stupidities begin’ — stupidities, such as worrying about the correctness of a reflection?”

If “a reflection” of the art work of Bonnard is going to be focused on then the “reflection of Japanese art” can’t be ignored. Of course, just like the Nabi group and his deep thinking towards art, no single event or artistic movement can describe Bonnard. He was a free thinker during his youth and clearly Japanese art was one aspect of this rich artist who was blessed with amazing artistic skills. Likewise, the influence of Paul Gauguin and Stephane Mallarme, who was a Symbolist poet, entered his consciousness but Bonnard was never interested in following any concept which constrained his approach to art.

Bonnard stated that …when I and my friends adopted the Impressionists’ color programme in order to build on it we wanted to go beyond naturalistic color impressions – art, however, is not nature – We wanted a more rigorous composition. There was also so much more to extract from color as a means of expression. But developments ran ahead, society was ready to accept Cubism and Surrealism before we had reached what we had viewed as our ami…In a way we found ourselves hanging in mid air…”

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art responds to the above comment by stating that “Thus, the irony was that Impressionism was both a starling point and a trap for Bonnard. Yet it is acknowledged that Bonnard was not hostile to modern developments in art, rather he simply absorbed what he needed for his own experiments with color and form. As a result, Bonnard is in some ways a deceptive artist because his experiments were far more radical than one may realize at first glance.”

This article provides a brief glimpse into the importance of Japanese ukiyo-e for Bonnard. However, it is hoped that individuals will be inspired by the beauty of his art and the thought-patterns which meant so much to Bonnard.

http://www.sbmadocents.org/Collections/European%20Collection/Bonnard.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

June 13, 2012

Tokyo tourism: Bridgestone Museum of Art and stunning exhibitions

Tokyo tourism: Bridgestone Museum of Art and stunning exhibitions

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Bridgestone Museum of Art (http://www.bridgestone-museum.gr.jp/en/is currently holding an adorable exhibition which will finish on June 24, 2012. This current exhibition is to commemorate the sixtieth year of the creation of this amazing art gallery in the heart of Tokyo. Following the current exhibition titled“Bridgestone Museum of Art at Sixty: You’ve Got to See These Paintings” it will be followed by an intriguing exhibition about “Debussy, Music and the Arts” which will run between July 14 and October 14, 2012. Therefore, all year round you will find extremely fascinating and diverse exhibitions which highlight culture, history, the arts, and so much more related to important elements of human interaction.

This article is about the current exhibition titled the “Bridgestone Museum of Art at Sixty: You’ve Got to See These Paintings.” The exhibition is aimed at highlighting the development of this intriguing museum and special themes have been selected to split the exhibition into eleven fascinating areas.

On the website of the Bridgestone Museum of Art it comments that “Here visitors can enjoy the essence of the Ishibashi Foundation Collection. It has been six decades since we began carefully to add to what began as Ishibashi Shojiro’s personal collection. We now offer our visitors the opportunity to savor the results in depth.”

The eleven “thematic categories” in this exhibition are The Self-Portrait, The Portrait, The Nude, Models, Leisure, The Narrative, Mountains, Rivers, The Sea, The Still Life, and Contemporary Art. Each theme highlights the beauty of Western art and Japanese art. The diversity of the artists on show means that the senses and fusions of ideas challenge you in each section and clearly you have many common denominators, notably the lore of France for many Japanese artists.

In the first theme titled The Self-Portrait the most striking image is Paul Cezanne because the color scheme, powerful eyes, and the rich background highlights many aspects of his art. The sternest image applies to Sakamoto Hanjiro because he looks “cold” and emanating strength. In the other direction the world of Pablo Picasso highlights the world he portrayed therefore no noticeable features can be seen. Unlike the portrayal of Sakamoto Hanjiro the image of Rembrandt van Rijin highlights innocence and a person who appears open.

The next theme takes you to The Portrait and the art works selected and the portraits highlighted apply to various themes. Pierre-Auguste Renoir in the Young Girl and Mlle Georgette Charpentier Seated highlights the innocence of young girls who have the world in front of them. Leonard Foujita (Fujita Tsuguharu) in contrast focuses on an elegant and sophisticated lady who looks extremely appealing. The most illuminating image is titled the Boy by Sekine Shoji because the facial expression and usage of red leaves a deep impression.

The Nude is the third theme and the two most distinctive images are After the Bath by Edgar Degas andWoman Reclining by Kuniyoshi Yasuo. Edgar Degas is clearly taking extreme care because the detail is very sophisticated. While Kuniyoshi Yasuo shows a lady entering another world with her eyes closed and the contours of her body expressing natural beauty. Alternatively, Henri Matisse painting called Nude in the Studiotypifies his distinctive style and much is left to the imagination. The most realistic pieces of art which are clear in this section apply to Wada Eisaku and Okada Saburosuke.

Following this theme is Models which flows naturally from The Nude section. This collection highlights six various pieces of art. The style of Henri Matisse means that his Woman with Blue Bodice is the most distinctive because the other pieces of art focus on mainstream images. The one image which is striking for its diversity and richness is the Girl of Brehat by Kuroda Seiki. For you have many fascinating angles which highlights the innocence of a young lady who isn’t broken by poverty and her surroundings. It could feasibly highlight nervousness to some individuals but personally this image focuses on strength despite adversity. Both pieces of art by Fujishima Takeji are classics because Black Fan and Woman of Ciociaria show two women who are very alluring because of their elegant features. Young Woman in the Woods by Camille Corot is also very beautiful but within a more simplistic message than the two paintings by Fujishima Takeji.

Leisure is the next theme and all seven pieces of art are extremely different. In a sense, this section is the most diverse because of the various styles of the artists. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint the most striking images because much will depend on the personal attraction of the viewer. Of course, this will apply to each piece of art but in this theme it isn’t easy to highlight what stands out because each image is extremely distinctive by itself. In saying that, the work titled In the Wings at the Circus by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is extremely fascinating because of the color scheme and layout. The darkness of In the Lamplight by Pierre Bonnard leaves much to the imagination but when you look very close up it is clear that the atmosphere is extremely relaxing. Overall, this theme is the most diverse because you have the natural leisure time by the sea painted by Eugene Boudin, to the non-facial and foggy contours of Masked Ball at the Opera by Edouard Manet, and this is followed by the striking colors of Saltimbanque Seated with Arms Crossed by Pablo Picasso.

The Narrative is the next theme and Christ in the Outskirts by Georges Rouault is extremely powerful by its simplicity and meaning. Also, for many artists they were “in the outskirts” because of thinking, poverty, and being unrecognized compared with the talents they had. Honore Daumier on the other hand is depicting a picture of strength and the color scheme to Don Quixote in the Mountains is extremely beautiful. The art work titled Onamuchi-no-mikoto by Aoki Shigeru is one of his finest pieces of work that he ever produced. This applies to the potency of the image and the mysterious angle regarding the lady holding her breast and looking directly at the viewer who studies this art piece. On top of this you have the majesty of A Biblical or Historical Nocturnal Scene by Rembrandt van Rijin.

Following on from The Narrative is the Mountains theme. This fascinating section highlights a traditional Japanese artist called Sesshu Toyo. He, like Rembrandt van Rijin, belongs to a different world than the majority of artists on show because both these artists belong to a completely different period of history. The Landscape of the Four Seasons by Sesshu Toyo is a reminder of the rich connection between China and Japan and how both cultures have impacted on each other. Mount Sainte-Victoire and Chateau Noir by Paul Cezanne is a completely different style than Sesshu Toyo but the majesty of nature and architecture bridges time, culture, style, and perspectives. Similarly, you can see a rich connection between Meadowland by Henri Rousseau andPower Plant in the Snow by Oka Shikanosuke. This doesn’t apply to the themes selected by both artists but it certainly applies to the style of art and clearly Oka Shikanosuke admired Henri Rousseau. The art pieces by Paul Gauguin, Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot, and Sakamoto Hanjiro, are all extremely beautiful based on different factors. Indeed, Ville d’Avray by Camille Corot could be a scene from any nation with a similar countryside landscape. Therefore, this stunning piece of art is timeless and international within nations that share a similar backdrop within the countryside.

Moving on to the next theme titled Rivers.  The stunning June Morning in Saint-Mammes by Alfred Sisley is a true delight along with Women Going to the Woods by the same artist. Alfred Sisley produced countless numbers of amazing landscapes and the nature of Vegetable Garden by Camille Pissarro which is highlighted in this collection would have appealed greatly to him. Flood at Argenteuvil, Water Lily Pond, and Water Liliesby Claude Monet highlights the majesty of this amazing artist who is deeply admired in Japan. The art pieces by Vincent van Gogh titled Windmills on Montmartre, Washing Place in Grez-sur-Loing by Asai Chu, and the delightful Landscape near Vernon by Pierre Bonnard, are real treats which show the power of the Rivers theme. Indeed, every piece of art in this collection is richly rewarding and while it isn’t clear why Café Terrace with Posters by Saeki Yuzo is in the Rivers theme, this doesn’t distract from the power of this piece of art which was created by an individual who died extremely young and in tragic circumstances. Another quality piece of art applies to Canal Boat by Maurice de Vlaminck which is so rich when it comes to the color scheme and with an industrial landscape in the background fitting in gently because of the amazing style of this artist.

The richness of this amazing exhibition is further highlighted by the next theme titled The SeaOnce more Claude Monet comes to prominence because the Belle-Ile, Rain Effect highlights the rugged beauty of nature.Collioure by Henri Matisse once more shows the powerful individuality of this artist and the style fits in well withPort of Concarneau by Paul Signac. Fujishima Takeji comes to prominence in this collection because four pieces of his art are displayed. Each piece highlights the richness of Fujishima Takeji but Waves at Oaraistands out because it is a real gem. In contrast to this is the delightful Distant View of Awajishima which is tranquil compared with the Waves at Oarai. Similarly to the power of the above mentioned artist is the stunningSeascape, Mera by Aoki Shigeru.

Following on from this theme is The Still Life collection whereby Roses and Lemons and a Melon by Yasui Sotaro are extremely beautiful. The theme of both isn’t complex but the style and power of color is a wonder to behold and highlights the strength of Yasui Sotaro. Innocent Moonlit Night by Koga Harue is intriguing because of the chaotic nature of things in the layout but the layout itself is based on order in a surreal sense. This collection is also blessed with Peaches by Pierre Bonnard, Bowl and Milk-jug by Paul Cezanne, Interior, House in Dordogne by Leonard Foujita, and Still Life with Horse’s Head by Paul Gauguin.

The final theme in this entire exhibition is titled Contemporary Art. In this collection the piece of art by Zao Wou-ki takes prominence because of the richness of the background. Other notable pieces of art includeComposition by Serge Poliakoff and Red Devil by Sugai Kumi.

Overall, the exhibition by the Bridgestone Museum of Art is a real treasure because the art on show is full of richness, diversity, and imagination. The artists speak for themselves because you have so many amazing artists which are highlighted in this adorable exhibition. Therefore, irrespective if you are a Tokyoite or tourist, the Bridgestone Museum of Art should come highly on your agenda because the richness of culture highlighted at this institution is truly remarkable.

http://www.bridgestone-museum.gr.jp/en/ in English

http://www.bridgestone-museum.gr.jp/  in Japanese

The images in this article do not come from the Bridgestone Museum of Art. In order to view the real works by all the artists highlighted then please visit the above websites.

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

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June 3, 2012

Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yoshu Chikanobu (Toyohara Chikanobu) lived between 1838 and 1912 and much of his art highlights the changing nature of Japan. The opening up of Japan after the Meiji Restoration provided many new dreams for Japanese citizens but it also was the start of the death knell for many artisans. This applies to the technological changes taking place and the changing values and thinking during this period of history.

Chikanobu, like other ukiyo-e artists in the Meiji era, understood the need to adapt because many new art forms were altering the artistic landscape in Japan. Western art especially impacted on the new generation of artists and political elites wanted to encourage modernism. Therefore, the new crème de la crème of young artists mainly adopted concepts outside of the powerful ukiyo-e art form which was so potent during the Edo period.

At the same time, technological advancements and photography were impacting greatly on ukiyo-e from a virtually negative point of view. The old ways which nurtured art in the Edo period, along with other forms of art, were being challenged by many new art movements. Also, photography would eat away at the need for ukiyo-e because it could not compete on a technological level playing field.

Chikanobu highlights an array of subjects in his art and this applies to the power of the past to the changing nature of Japanese society. He also depicted powerful historical figures in Japanese history to highlighting the nationalist side of the Meiji period which applies to war. Also, when you view Chikanobu’s art you can visually witness the imperial aspects of Western powers, which were being replicated in dress styles when it applied to elites.

Cultural wise, Chikanobu also painted many adorable themes. This applies to the Japanese tea ceremony, ikebana, kabuki, fashion in the changing Japan, and a plethora of other subjects. In this sense, Chikanobu opens up many aspects of Japan related to many themes. These themes also apply to the “old world” and “new world.”

The Toshidama Gallery (http://toshidama.wordpress.comcomments that “Chikanobu is one of the giants of the Meiji era of Japanese Woodblock prints. With Kunichika and Yoshitoshi, Chikanobu distinguished the turmoil of Japanese culture as it came to terms with the new age. Like them his life and career were inextricably linked to the upheavals in Japanese history and the near civil wars that characterized the time.”

Chikanobu and the series titled A Mirror of the Ages is also a classic because of the rich cultural themes related to women and fashion throughout the changing times. The Toshidama Gallery highlights this series strongly by stating that “This whole series is one of the outstanding achievements of late nineteenth century Japanese art. One of his best series, A Mirror of the Ages showed women by fashion and hair style throughout history. There is of course the longing for the past and yet these prints are unmistakably modern and of their time….The quality of printing is outstanding, especially in Chikanobu’s use of white for the rendering of the powdered faces. It is often forgotten by art historians that this was the period about all others when the technique of woodblock printing achieved its zenith whilst at the same time there were artists of stature to execute it.”

Other adorable print series include “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties). Of course, Chikanobu produced many amazing pieces of art but both the above named series relate to genuine aspects of female beauty in Japan. This is highlighted by traditional clothes, for example the kimono, to the changing nature of the time which applies to Western dress styles.

In a past article about Chikanobu I comment that “Chikanobu not only witnessed the new revolutionary period and how elites looked to the West but by the late 1880s and early 1890s nostalgia also returned.  Obviously for the masses they were outside both themes and the only important thing was survival and adapting.”

The art of Chikanobu stands out dramatically and this not only applies to the exquisite skills that he was blessed with, but also to the themes that Chikanobu highlights. He certainly provides many glimpses into Japan which relate to the “old world,” cultural aspects of Japan, and the modernization of the Meiji period.

Overall, Chikanobu is one of the greats of the ukiyo-e art movement and given the plethora of fantastic ukiyo-e artists, this highlights his richness to the full. Therefore, if you adore Japanese art, culture, and history, then Chikanobu will appeal greatly because of the broad themes he depicted in his art.

 

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_216/Chikanobu-A-Mirror-of-the-Ages.htm

Please visit http://toshidama.wordpress.com for more articles and information.

Please visit http://toshidama-japanese-prints.com/ –   On our site you will see a wonderful selection of Japanese woodblock prints for sale. Ukiyo-e (the Japanese name for woodblock prints of the 18th and 19thcenturies) are beautiful, collectible and a sound financial investment

http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=20942

http://moderntokyotimes.com

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

May 28, 2012

Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: the “outsider” who died in a distant land in an insane asylum

Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: the “outsider” who died in a distant land in an insane asylum

Lee Jay Walker 

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Yuzo Saeki gave much to the Japanese art world despite dying at the age of 30. Yuzo Saeki was born in 1898 and passed away in 1928. However, despite his time on this earth being brief he did much and left an intriguing legacy which also applies to areas outside of art. This applies to the way he was “thrown to the wolves” while feeling entrapped by health problems, cultural factors, and being abandoned by a culture which did not love him back.

In many ways, Yuzo Saeki represents the “outsider” which resides in all nations throughout the world, and within nations where the marginalized are unloved. Also, he highlights the complexity of culture and how individuals may adore aspects of a new culture – but this “new culture” isn’t able to respond in kind. Therefore, the society that abandoned him was the French culture that he admired and desired to belong. However, he always remained to be the “outsider” in a country which inspired him and pulled away at his tormented soul.

Yuzo Saeki provides a genuine glimpse into the “real separation” of “a love affair” which refused to acknowledge his deep love of Paris and France. This applies to many art pieces whereby the distance from his vantage point is noticeable by the confused lettering of certain places he depicted. Also, the manic and confused lines within some of his art may denote all the inner-confusions and utter desperation that he felt at times. Despite this, and being in extremely poor health, he could not pull himself away from a culture which inspired him to create stunning pieces of art.

Yuzo Saeki was born in the vibrant city of Osaka and from a very early age he fell in love with art. The Buddhist faith ran through his veins when a child because his father was a Buddhist priest. On top of this was the changing nature of Japanese society which also swept away many traditions and depleted many rich trades. In this sense, modernization in both France and Japan was ripping many lives apart. Yet, on the other hand both societies were providing new opportunities.

The Meiji and Taisho periods in Japan were full of mass contradictions because on the one hand a new modern dynamic was part and parcel of the “new” Japan. Opposite to this, was a new nationalist period whereby Japan would join “the Western club” and “Islamic club” of colonialism. Amidst all these contradictions was a very talented artist called Yuzo Saeki who meant no negative things towards anyone. Instead, he just wanted to focus on the vocation that he adored. Sadly, life is never that simple for some individuals and ultimately his vocation also created great suffering for Yuzo Saeki.

Western art in Japan was provided with a small “window” in Nagasaki by the Dutch during the Edo period. However, in the period of Yuzo Saeki no other city was more vibrant than Paris when it came to new art movements. The old world of influence from China and Korea was on the wane for many artists and the same applies to the rich traditions of Japanese art. Therefore, the pull of Western art was extremely strong for Yuzo Saeki and in time Paris and France would become “a love affair” with “a poison chalice.”

It must be stated that many other Japanese artists didn’t suffer the same fate in France. Given this, it is clear that the deep passion within Yuzo Saeki was extremely unique but what tipped everything in the wrong direction near the end, applies to the tragic circumstances of his life. This notably applies to poor health; poverty; alienation in a country he adored; mental exhaustion because he could feel “the gates of death beckoning;” isolation; and trapped by his own “love affair” with a culture which was alien to him despite being familiar with France.

In an earlier article I state that all “…these negatives conspired together because at the age of 30 Yuzo Saeki died in destitution in a mental hospital in France. The culmination of tuberculosis, a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork, limited means to survive, still painting outside despite worsening health conditions and other factors; all led to a very sad ending of what should have been a bright future.”

It is easy to imagine Yuzo Saeki eating inadequately based on poverty while at the same time coughing up blood because of tuberculosis. Near the end he manically painted new pieces of art because he felt “the gates of death.” Therefore, even when the weather was negative he continued to paint while bringing up blood would have interrupted him from time to time.

This meant that the reality of different thought-patterns, diverse movements within the respective art scenes of both France and Japan, and other complex factors, could easily “swallow up” individuals who were beset by various issues. Given this, when Yuzo Saeki needed guidance and support he had nobody to help him in a distant land. His “moment in time” was very different to the norms of the art scene in Paris and different cultural factors meant that he was isolated internally.

The final year alone in France was a far cry from 1924 when he moved to this nation with his wife and young daughter. Then he at least had the home comforts to placate the other “love affair” which didn’t love him back.

Michael Brenson commented in the New York Times that “When European art began to question its own traditions, however, as it did increasingly during and after World War I, there was a potential for trouble. Artists could find themselves with neither a European tradition to learn from nor a Japanese tradition to hold onto. When Saeki Yuzo, who is perceived in his country as a tragic hero, the Japanese van Gogh, died at the age of 30 in an insane asylum in Paris in 1928 – perhaps a suicide – he had been trying to paint in this void. Saeki continues to be an example to Japanese artists abroad of the difficulties in reconciling East and West…His paintings reflect his isolation. His cafe windows and stores are filled with signs, some illegible. In his “Snowy Landscape,” figures are on the verge of illegibility. His signs seem like scars of an internal pressure to resolve a conflict between the independence and picturesque subject matter of Paris and a dependence upon his native calligraphic and woodcut tradition.”

The comments made by Michael Brenson are extremely illuminating because it paints a picture of an artist who is trapped by the cultural realities of both nations. At the same time, he appears to notice his isolation and withdraws from a distance whereby the signs are often illegible. However, it is not only the signs which sometimes become illegible because also the human form enters a dark and sinister world where the scars of life are all too real.

Yuzo Saeki also highlights the “outsider” who never can belong despite his love of the host nation. This shared experience can be felt by individuals throughout the world who often feel the same pressure and isolation. Often, it may not always be the host nation because much can depend on cultural differences and certain “norms” which clash strongly in some cultures.

However, with the visible signs of tuberculosis, the mental strains of creating more art pieces because of the knowledge that death was getting nearer, and the grind of daily poverty pulling away at him; it is clear that nobody stepped in . Therefore, not one single individual in Paris cared enough to help Yuzo Saeki to the full. This culminated in the sad reality that his passionate “love affair” was one way because in his “time of need” he was abandoned to the ravages that befell him.

In the end Yuzo Saeki sacrificed his life and his family because he died based on the factors that entrapped him and took away his life. This applies to tuberculosis, poverty, and suffering from a mental breakdown. Michael Brenson also hints that he may have committed suicide in the end. However, the fact that this is debatable highlights the reality that Yuzo Saeki had been “thrown to the wolves.” Therefore, near the end he was just “another number” who was unloved and who died in an insane asylum in a distant land.

 

http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a228566/yuzo-saeki-posters.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/25/arts/when-japan-s-art-opened-to-western-winds.html

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fa20070301a1.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

May 24, 2012

Alfred Sisley and Fujishima Takeji: Art, Impressionism and the Paris connection

Alfred Sisley and Fujishima Takeji: Art, Impressionism and the Paris connection

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Alfred Sisley and Fujishima Takeji were both born in the nineteenth century and their common factors apply to the stunning art they produced and the richness of Paris which influenced both artists. They both also studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris in France.  However, the generational gap meant that both individuals studied at this important institution at different periods.

Fujishima Takeji (1867-1943) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) may have been born in two very different parts of the world but the Paris connection brought them together in the artistic sense. Alfred Sisley retained his British citizenship throughout his life despite being born in Paris and residing mainly in France. Therefore, Alfred Sisley was firmly based in Europe while Fujishima Takeji understood the diverse complexities of both Japanese art and European art.

However, Alfred Sisley would have connected with the birth place of Fujishima Takeji because he was born in Kagoshima. The reason for the connection applies to the countryside which meant so much to Alfred Sisley who adored landscape art. This also is another common theme shared by both exquisite artists.  The same also applies to Impressionism which meant so much to both artist but for Alfred Sisley the power ofImpressionist landscape was much deeper.

The stunning Impressionist landscape art of Alfred Sisley amazingly appears to be massively underrated when it comes to the fame of his name. Of course, for people who adore Impressionist art and art in general, then Alfred Sisley will be known to many. However, even within the art world his name doesn’t spring to mind when compared with other Impressionist artists. This is extremely surprising because he produced many sublime pieces of art which strikingly standout.

One important difference between Fujishima Takeji and Alfred Sisley is that Alfred Sisley never left the path ofImpressionist landscape art. Impressionism meant the world to Alfred Sisley. However, for Fujishima Takeji the influence of Japanese art and searching for new ideas meant that other art movements were equally important.

Fujishima Takeji had originally started studying traditional Japanese painting when he relocated to Tokyo in 1884. During this period he studied under Gyokusho Kawabata and prior to this he had learnt brush stroke techniques under Togaku Hirayama. However, the lore of Western art appealed greatly to Fujishima Takeji therefore he soon changed his art direction and focused on Western-style paintings. He was lucky enough to study under Hosui Yamamoto and Yukihiko Soyama when he made this transition and it soon became apparent that Fujishima Takeji had taken the right path.

Outside of Japan Fujishima Takeji became known for his importance in focusing on and developingRomanticism and Impressionism which graced the Japanese art scene called yoga (Western-style). This change of direction would also witness Fujishima Takeji becoming influenced by Art Nouveau. Yet despite the many influences it was the yoga path which became instrumental to him by the mid-1880s. Great credit for enhancing his abundant talent must be given to Hosui Yamamoto and Yukihiko Soyama for their expert guidance.

Ironically, the industrialization and innovation of the Meiji Restoration (1868) meant that new opportunities were occurring within all strata’s of society. This enabled many Japanese artists to focus on new art forms and to free their minds whereby many paths were open to talented artists outside of the traditional art forms of Japan. However, for Alfred Sisley his stunning art bypassed the power of industrialization and instead it would appear that nature was in the ascendancy. This was also done without any political or romantic bias because everything seemed so natural and this is the beauty of Alfred Sisley.

Another different aspect to the lives of Fujishima Takeji and Alfred Sisley applies to material wealth and certainty. Alfred Sisley was born into a wealthy family but after the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian war, everything changed because poverty and challenging times would now become the norm. In this sense, Fujishima Takeji overcomes material obstacles because his later life was extremely stable when it came to financial matters. However, for Alfred Sisley this area remained problematic for him despite having wealthy patrons which enabled him to travel to Britain from time to time.

Despite poverty remaining with the Sisley family this never dampened his spirit and love of Impressionism. Therefore, he rose above everything and continued to produce stunning landscapes throughout his remaining years on this earth. Also, when the Sisley family moved away from Paris and relocated near to the forest of Fontainebleau, this decision turned out to be very fruitful because it suited his style of art. Given this, Alfred Sisley became refreshed by the surrounding environment because he did not need the trappings of major cities by this stage in his life.

Meanwhile the life of Fujishima Takeji in the 1880s was given a huge boost by the novelist and art critic, Ogai Mori. This applies to the fact that Ogai Mori was highly respected and well connected. Therefore, Fujishima Takeji was now moving in the right circles and he clearly utilized all the wisdom and skills that he had learnt from Togaku Hirayama.

The Marubeni Art Collection states that “In 1905, Fujishima traveled to Europe and studied under Fernand Cormon at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris in France and Carolus-Duran, President of the Academie de France in Italy. Cormon’s speciality was historical paintings, while Duran excelled in portraiture.”

This meant that Fujishima Takeji also studied at the same institution and while Alfred Sisley had sadly passed away in 1899, his spirit and the power of the art he produced remained strong. Therefore, the same art institution and the trappings of Paris will have been felt richly for both stunning and gifted artists. The meaning of the art institution and their time in Paris will have meant different things. However, certain connections will have flowed in their veins even if the outcome was different for both individuals.

The Marubeni Art Collection continues by stating that “On his return, in 1910, Fujishima was nominated Professor of Tokyo Art School and became a member of the Imperial Art Academy (the Teikoku Bijutsu-in), as well as a member of the jury for its exhibitions, known in abbreviations at the Tei-ten. In 1937, he received the very first Order of Culture (Bunka Kunsho), a decoration given by the Government to those who have contributed greatly to the development of art, science and other fields of culture, along with Saburosuke Okada.”

Overall, the beauty of the art work of Alfred Sisley and Fujishima Takeji is abundantly clear when you view their most famous pieces of art. Certain flows of history and important circles naturally entered both of their respective worlds irrespective if the outcome was different. These two amazing artists have left a rich legacy and both need to be studied more in the modern period because of the richness of the art they both produced.

 

http://www.alfredsisley.org

http://www.vincentvangoghclaudemonet.org/artist/Fujishima_takeji.html

Image 1-3-5-7-9-11-13-15 are pieces of art by Alfred Sisley and number 2-4-6-8-10-12-14 are art pieces by Fujishima Takeji.

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

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May 12, 2012

Claude Monet was smitten by Japanese art: Impressionism and ukiyo-e

Claude Monet was smitten by Japanese art: Impressionism and ukiyo-e

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times 

Claude Monet was very important within French Impressionism and despite new artistic movements like Cubism and Fauvism altering the artistic landscape, he remained firmly committed to Impressionist art. Another major art theme which would shape Claude Monet was Japanese ukiyo-e because he was smitten by this art form when he witnessed it with his own eyes. Therefore, Claude Monet utilized these two powerful art movements and the upshot of this was stunning fresh art pieces which remain etched within the memory.

The Impressionist art movement altered the artistic world dramatically and created a new energy to art. However, for Claude Monet, and others, Impressionism was a philosophy which remained with him until parting from this world.

He was born in 1840 in Paris and died in 1926. Throughout his long life he created extremely stunning art which is internationally admired. From an early age Claude Monet adored art and in the early period he took lessons from Jacques-Francois Ochard. However, his early mentor who taught him about using oil paints was Eugene Boudin, a fellow artist, whom he met when still a teenager. Claude Monet and Eugene Boudin also benefitted from the influence of Johan Barthold Jongkind.

The year 1857 was very dramatic and full of sadness because Claude Monet’s mother died. From this period to the early 1860s he witnessed many highs and lows because other family members were opposed to his strong focus on art. In the early 1860s he served in the French army in Algeria and was meant to have stayed for seven years. However, after suffering from typhoid fever he was allowed to leave after two years because of the actions of his aunt and the reported prompting of Johan Barthold Jongkind.

Claude Monet in 1862 could once more fully concentrate on art but he wasn’t interested in following traditional art. He now became a student under Charles Gleyre in the dynamic city of Paris. In time he would meet powerful artists like Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Frederic Bazille. These artists were focused on new approaches to art and in time the Impressionist movement would radically alter the artistic landscape. Therefore, because of these individuals and others who were dedicated to new artistic concepts, a rich flow of art would galvanize the art world which remains vibrant today.

The 1870s was a very dramatic period for Claude Monet because the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 and the revolutionary fervor which gripped Paris, led to many upheavals. During the same period he was touched by Japanese print making called ukiyo-e. This love affair would stay with him for the rest of his life. However, the death of his wife from tuberculosis in 1879 after several years of illness shattered Claude Monet because he doted on Camille Doncieux.

Turning back to the impact of Japanese art on Claude Monet the writer Don Morrison, Time Magazine, commented in his article (Monet’s Love Affair with Japanese Art) that “One day in 1871, legend has it, a French artist named Claude Monet walked into a food shop in Amsterdam, where he had gone to escape the Prussian siege of Paris. There he spotted some Japanese prints being used as wrapping paper. He was so taken by the engravings that he bought one on the spot. The purchase changed his life — and the history of Western art.”

“Monet went on to collect 231 Japanese prints, which greatly influenced his work and that of other practitioners of Impressionism, the movement he helped create. Under the new Meiji Emperor, Japan in the 1870s was just opening to the outside world after centuries of isolation. Japanese handicrafts were flooding into European department stores and art galleries. Japonisme, a fascination with all things Japanese, was soon the rage among French intellectuals and artists, among them Vincent van Gogh, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro and the young Monet. Perhaps for that reason Impressionism caught on early in Japan and remains ferociously popular there.”

While it is known that Claude Monet adored ukiyo-e you still have major debates about how Japanese prints influenced him personally. This topic is still up in the air to many art experts and the opinion varies greatly.

On the following website (http://www.intermonet.com/japan/it is stated that “Art historians do not agree about this point: was Monet really under Japanese influence, or did he seek confirmations of his own research in Eastern art?”

“However, an attentive eye can establish interesting connections. The influence of the prints on Monet’s art can be noted in the subjects he chose, in the composition, in light……But Monet knew how to be inspired without borrowing. His paintings diverge, from the prints by many aspects. The Japanese artists liked to feature the anecdotic or dramatic moments, Monet concentrated on light, which was the very subject of the canvas – the object was no more than (a) medium to convey the plays of light.”

Art historians can either play up or play down the influence of ukiyo-e within the art of Claude Monet. However, he was clearly charmed by the ukiyo-e of individuals like Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro. This isn’t open to debate because not only did Claude Monet buy vast amount of ukiyo-e art prints but he also created a Japanese garden in his cherished home. He, and many other important Impressionists, was clearly inspired by many aspects of ukiyo-e.

The cultural dimension could never be bridged because of different thought patterns and factors behind both respective art movements. However, the richness of ukiyo-e and the freshness of this style did reinvigorate many artists in Europe and North America. Therefore, while the degree of influence may vary to respective artists who adored ukiyo-e, it is clear that new artistic concepts within ukiyo-e did inspire new thinking within many Impressionists.

Don Morrison comments that Perhaps the greatest gift Japan gave Monet, and Impressionism, was an incandescent obsession with getting the play of light and shadow, the balance of colors and the curve of a line, just right — not the way it is in reality, but the way it looks in the artist’s imagination. “I have slowly learned about the pattern of the grass, the trees, the structure of birds and other animals like insects and fish, so that when I am 80, I hope to be better,” Hokusai wrote 16 years before his death at age 89. “At 90, I hope to have caught the very essence of things, so that at 100 I will have reached heavenly mysteries. At 110, every point and line will be living.” Monet spent the last decades of his life painting his water lilies, and then painting them again, until he lost his sight in quest of an elusive, transcendent perfection that might best be called Japanese.”

The love affair that Claude Monet found with Japan in his lifetime remains powerful in modern Japan. After all, without a shadow of a doubt Claude Monet is one of the most popular artists in this country. Therefore, the “love affair” worked both ways and this “spark” remains extremely bright today in Japan amongst art lovers.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1573943,00.html#ixzz1uXJiJOmX

http://www.intermonet.com/japan/

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

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May 5, 2012

Japanese art and Asai Chu: the eclipse of ukiyo-e by western style art

Japanese art and Asai Chu: the eclipse of ukiyo-e by western style art

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

 

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 led to many social convulsions and like all revolutionary periods you had many winners and losers. This applies to individuals who could adapt to the rapid changes in society and the art world was no exception in Japan. Asai Chu (1856-1907) belonged to this changing world. However, in some ways he was lucky because he was young enough to understand these momentous events in Japanese history.

The old world of ukiyo-e would become eclipsed in the lifetime of Asai Chu despite some amazing Meiji ukiyo-e artists. Not surprisingly, Asai Chu became involved in the new wave of Japanese art which was heavily influenced by Western style artists. Of course, it wasn’t all one way because many Western artists like Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Edgar Devas, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others, adored ukiyo-e and Japanese style paintings.

However, the technological developments of photography and other areas meant that ukiyo-e could not compete on a level playing field based on modernization alone. Also, different cultural influences and Japanese artists living abroad meant that new dynamics were at work. This implies that while technological change speeded up the artistic transition, the old order would have been usurped anyway because of cultural interaction and changing thought patterns. Therefore, for individuals like Asai Chu these were exciting times.

Ironically, the Meiji period did witness many fantastic ukiyo-e artists and it is because of these individuals that it managed to cling on for so long. Notable Meiji ukiyo-e artists include Yoshitoshi, Chikanobu, Kobayashi Kiyochika, Ogata Gekko, Kawanabe Kyosai, Toyohara Kunichika, Utagawa Yoshifuji, Mizuno Toshikata, Ginko Adachi, and several others. However, they were swimming “against the tide” despite their collective skills blessing the art world and enriching Japanese art.

Traces of the old world survived in modern Japan through new movements like shin-hanga but this area was limited when compared with the days of Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro, and many other amazing artists, who belonged to the world of ukiyo-e. However, this isn’t to underestimate the shin-hanga movement because it produced many stunning artists like Ito Shinsui, Hiroshi Yoshida, and Kawase Hasui (to name just a few). Also, the bridge of the shin-hanga movement meant that “the shadow” of the old world was ticking but fused with new changes and thinking within this intriguing art form.

Asai Chu blossomed under Kunisawa Shinkuro and he was lucky enough to study under Antonio Fontanesi. The reason why he had this opportunity was because of the Meiji elites who wanted to transport the best of the Western world and fuse this with the best of Japan. Therefore, in the area of science, the arts, law, industrialization, military thinking, commerce, political systems, and so forth, the power of the West became embodied within the psyche of the new Japan. Of course, while new thought patterns emerged, the power of Japanese culture and different thought patterns meant that you had a lot of fusions. Therefore, in certain areas “a new way” emerged based on Japanization.

In an earlier article I stated that “The Meiji government hired Antonio Fontanesi in order that he would introduce oil painting from Europe and clearly Asai Chu learnt much because his passion and sophistication grew. When Asai Chu was in his forties he resigned from being a professor in Tokyo and moved to France for two years. This decision was wise because by studying at an impressionist art school he managed to enhance his artistic skill and techniques.”

“Also, the cultural aspect of studying in France meant that new styles of thinking and artistic creativity would further enrich his rich talents. This decision also shows that Asai Chu was still searching and despite the relative comfort of being a professor in Tokyo he was willing to take risks in order to pursue his love of art.”

The inquisitive nature of Asai Chu and his love of art meant that France would enhance him personally, and in turn he would influence many important Japanese artists when he returned home. This must have pleased the Meiji leaders who were involved in the arts because the younger generation of aspiring artists had an individual to look up. This is based on his stunning art and the rich knowledge that he had obtained in Japan and France.

Therefore, artists like Yasui Sotaro, Suda Kunitaro, Umehara Ryuzaburo, and many others, learnt many things from Asai Chu. On returning to Japan he became a professor at Kyoto College of Arts and Crafts and because of his enthusiasm for art, he was involved in many clubs related to this field. Therefore, just like the dynamic Meiji period it is abundantly clear that Asai Chu was equally creative and vigorous.

In my earlier article about Asai Chu and the role of the Meiji political leadership, I comment that “Meiji political leaders impacted on art in this period and introduced new art forms from outside of Japan. However, at the same time political leaders were concerned about preserving the richness of Japanese art and culture. This minefield wasn’t easy and conservatives and liberals understood what was at stake but for individuals like Asai Chu the issue was “art” and not politics or cultural engineering.”

Ukiyo-e was clearly on “borrowed time” because of the prevailing conditions and artists like Asai Chu re-invigorated Japanese art. The shin-hanga movement meant that the power of ukiyo-e was kept alive for many decades throughout the twentieth century. It matters not that the thought patterns, concepts, and art, were very different because the link is evidently clear for all to see.

However, the world of Asai Chu would impact greatly on Japanese art because so many other fellow nationals were inspired by Western art. However, in truth, each new movement will one day be eclipsed by new concepts, styles, and thinking. Therefore, the diversity of Japanese art is blessed by each special art movement irrespective if the roots began in Japan, China, France, Holland, or wherever.

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

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April 27, 2012

Japanese art and Utamaro Kitagawa: striking ukiyo-e artist

Japanese art and Utamaro Kitagawa: striking ukiyo-e artist

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The exact date of the birth of Utamaro Kitagawa and strong details about his parents remain shrouded in mystery. It is known that this striking ukiyo-e artist was born in the middle of the eighteenth century and that he died in the early nineteenth century. However, while these details may remain sketchy the artistic skills of this ukiyo-e artist aren’t sketchy because he left a powerful legacy.

Utamaro was especially known for his bijin-ga (art of beautiful women) and studies of nature. In the middle of the nineteenth century his stunning ukiyo-e portraits reached many acclaimed artists in Europe, notably in France. The upshot of this was that he influenced European Impressionists because of aspects of his art related to partial views and other areas related to light and shade.

In the early art of Utamaro you can see the influence of Torii Kiyonaga and Harunobu Suzuki. Also, it is widely accepted that he studied under Toriyama Sekien and that the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo enabled Utamaro to develop and prosper. This applies to the early part of his artistic career but in time the relationship would cease once Utamaro reached new heights in the early 1790s.

Therefore, from 1791 he concentrated on single portraits of ladies rather than women in groups, which was very popular at the time. His half-length portraits would also inspire many artists in later generations in Japan and much further afield.

It is stated that Utamaro would find models from either the streets of Tokyo or from the sexual known area called Yoshiwara, which is still known for this feature in modern day Tokyo. Also, in the streets of Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinjuku in modern times, you will often see men asking beautiful ladies for work related to modeling and other areas. Therefore, it is easy to envisage Utamaro doing the same in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century.

Utamaro didn’t just limit himself to bijin-ga because he also did work related to nature studies, animals, insects, and shunga (erotica). Often, this side of Utamaro is overlooked but clearly he was multi-dimensional. Also, it must be stated that shunga may appear to be more sexual from the non-Japanese point of view. However, in Japan this art form was a way of focusing on the natural side of human behavior.

Dieter Wanczura on the website Artelino comments that “When reading about this artist, you will often find phrases like “No other ukiyo-e artist has painted the beauty of women as deeply as he did”. This has indeed a point. Utamaro’s women express a certain sensitivity that no ukiyo-e artist had achieved before him. He had experimented with some new techniques to display the flesh tones of his women portraits in a different and softer manner.”

“But the artist certainly did not show women in their real natural physiognomy. His women are idealized with extremely tall and slender bodies. The heads are twice longer than broad. The noses are extremely long and the eyes and the mouth are depicted as tiny little slits. His women have long necks and small shoulders.”

“The typical physiognomy of a Japanese woman of the late eighteenth century was certainly far different from the designs of Utamaro. Indeed, his women look more like the models in today’s fashion magazines. Is this the key for an explanation of the success of Utamaro prints?”

Sadly, the last few years witnessed bouts of depression after being imprisoned in 1804 because of his art. This applies to an historical print that he produced which showed Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a pre-Edo leader who helped to unify Japan) with five concubines and his wife. However, this displeased the ruling elites and for this he was put in prison for a brief period (some say 50 days others state the period was much shorter).

Irrespective of the length of time, he took this badly because he felt humiliated and clearly this incident tarnished his reputation amongst the elites. He died two years later but his legacy remains strong because of the stunning pieces of art he produced

 

http://www.artelino.com/articles/utamaro.asp

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

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