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Monday, August 30, 2010


With all the multi-media communication links available to, indeed assaulting, artists in this first decade of this twenty-first century, it may be difficult to imagine a time when artists were starving for new influences and new ways of seeing the world around them.  Most artists in this mega-communication era have a pretty good handle on the nature of, and the images of various foreign cultures.  Sometimes we even employ them eclectically in our work.  We take these outside influences for granted.

French Impressionism was a direct reaction to the boorish, factory-like French Academy and it's tightly governed style of painting. Largely because of this, the various artists we now associate with Impressionism soaked up outside influences like a sponge, among them, photography, scientific color theory, and the subject matter of the Industrial Revolution, especially trains and train stations. However, it might be that the strangest outside influence to insinuate itself into the Impressionist movement was the art of Japanese prints.

In the late 1800's Japanese society was only just beginning to open up, and trade with the western world was sparse to non-existent. How could it be then, that the dramatic diagonals and asymetrical compositions that so delight the eye in the art of Japanese prints came to influence artist like Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others?

Sudden Shower at the

Ataki Bridge, 1856,

Actually, it happened largely by accident.

One of the first and most valuable commodities exported from these lands were fragile Japanese porcelains. These exquisite art objects had to  be packed very carefully to survive the torturous sea voyage to Europe and  eventually Paris, that hotbed of Impressionist insurrection. You guessed it, those precious art objects came wrapped in another form of artwork, discarded Japanese prints. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

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