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Ukioyoe, Part Three English Summary

Please try to tackle the Japanese first and use this only as needed.

UKIYOE, during the Edo Period, entered Europe through Japan’s only trading partner, Holland. Old ukiyo-e papers were used to cushion things like porcelain.

The French painters were very surprised upon seeing these crumpled up pictures. Until then, European art had been very different. In addition, the Paris International Exposition (in 1867) was taking place and many Japanese crafts were displayed. A Japan boom had begun. This was called Japonisme.

There were many artists who admired Japanisme, but first among them was the serious ukiyo-e collector, Vincent van Gogh. At that time, ukiyo-e was very expensive in Europe. Despite being quite poor, Van Gogh collected about 500 ukiyo-e pieces. He especially liked Utagawa Hiroshige, it seems.

Longing for Japan and dreaming of going to Japan, Van Gogh moved to southern France. He thought going to a warm place with abundant natural sceneries would be like living as a Japanese person. In a letter to his younger brother, Theo, he wrote things like, “Being here, it seems, is just like being in Japan” and “I feel like I can paint like a Japanese artist.” His famous “Sunflowers” series was painted here.

Van Gogh also made copies of ukiyo-e. Interestingly, around the borders of his copied ukiyo-e, he wrote kanji. It is as if he wanted his to be more Japanese than the Japanese originals.

He also painted images of ukiyo-e in the background of his paintings. His famous “Portrait of Père Tanguy” is once such painting. Van Gogh’s “Almond Blossoms” could be mistaken for a Japanese painting.

Japan has many fans of Van Gogh, but it may be that in his work, Japanese people have a nostalgic feeling as if they are viewing ukiyo-e.

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