Japonisme became popular among Western artists during the latter half of the 19th century. It was a huge movement in many areas of art, including painting and design. The art of ukiyo-e painter Hokusai (late Edo period) captivated impressionist artists who wanted to liberate themselves from traditional rules of art. The ongoing Hokusai and Japonisme exhibition at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo gives us the opportunity to rediscover this fascinating relationship.
Hokusai’s art allures us even today. In 2016, the Sumida Hokusai Museum opened in Sumida, Tokyo, the birthplace of Hokusai. Edgar Degas (1834–1917), known widely as the “painter of dancers,” was one of the artists that were drawn to Hokusai’s art. His painting Dancers, Pink and Green strongly connotes how Hokusai’s art influenced him. The posture of the delicate ballerina with her hands on her hips is very similar to the sumo wrestler in the Hokusai Manga. It is said that Degas kept a collection of Hokusai’s prints.
Compositional similarities can also be seen between the paintings of Montagne Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), the founding father of modern art, and Hokusai’s The Tea plantation of Katakura in Suruga Province in the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. In both pieces, there is a big tree on one side and mountains can be seen in the background.
Lasting Ripples of the Great Wave
Hokusai’s most famous painting is The Great Wave off Kanagawa in the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series, depicting an impressive and towering wave. A boat can be seen being tossed around by the enormous wave, while the people on board can do nothing against the ferocious power of nature. This energetic piece has continued to mesmerize artists.
The sculptor Camille Claudel (1864–1943), the lover of Auguste Rodin, was one of those artists. Her sculpture The Wave, which is displayed at the Hokusai and Japonisme exhibition with Hokusai’sThe Great Wave off Kanagawa, is said to be a three-dimensional creation of Hokusai’s wave. Claudel’s wave is both intimidating and gentle, as it seems to envelop the three female figures below it. Although there are some differences, the sculpture evokes Hokusai’s style. It is also said that Hokusai’s wave inspired the orchestral composition La Mer (The Sea) by the composer Debussy (1862–1918), who was close to Claudel. He is said to have had a painting of an enormous wave, and part of the painting was used for the score’s cover.
The Great Wave also had a significant impact on graphic design and crafts. The British designer Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), who was knowledgeable about Japanese art, created the ornamental and modernistic Wave Bowl. Features of The Great Wave can also be seen in posters from the late 19th century.
Kazuhiko Shibusawa is a staff writer of the Sankei Shimbun Cultural news department.
The Hokusai and Japonisme exhibition will be held until January 28 at the National Museum of Western Art (7-7, Ueno-Koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo). Closed on Mondays. Ticket prices: ¥1,600 (general), ¥1,200 (college students), ¥800 (high school students).
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)