Ukiyoe 浮世絵: Dreams of Beautiful Japan

In the mid-19th century, when the artists in Europe were exposed to the influx of the decorative artworks from Japan, they were fascinated by the unique artistic insight and imagination in them. Especially, Ukiyoe 浮世絵, the Japanese woodblock painting, became a crucial source of inspiration for many innovative artists, and exerted a considerable influence on the development of the new styles of arts including Impressionism and Art Nouveau.

The asymmetrical design, strong lines and simple flat colors of Ukiyoe attracted many eminent Impressionist artists from Manet to Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt, Monet, Van Gogh and many more.

Claude Monet kept Ukiyoe on the walls of his villa in Giverny: He collected 231 Japanese prints. These included works by such great masters as Ando Hiroshige 安藤 広重, Katushika Hokusai 葛飾 北斎 and Kitagawa Utamaro 喜多川 歌麿.

Vincent Van Gogh was also one of those admirers. In his Le Pere Tanguy, Gogh painted in its background scene, six different Japanese Ukiyoe featuring Japanese scenes and objects, including cherry blossom, a Japanese courtesan, Mount Fuji, and a cluster of morning-glory. He copied two prints by the Japanese great master of genre, Hiroshige. He wrote on his admiration for Japan in his letter to his brother: “I envy the Japanese artists for the incredible neat clarity which all their works have. It is never boring and you never get the impression that they work in a hurry. It is as simple as breathing; they draw a figure with a couple of strokes with such an unfailing easiness as if it were as easy as buttoning one’s waist-coat.”