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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fujishima Takeji

Snow at the Hiunkaku, Nishihonganji Temple, Kyoto, Fujishima Takeji
Snow at Chioin Temple,
 1943, Fujishima Takeji
In order for a lasting artistic tradition to develop, a nation or ethnic culture must possess two fundamental qualities. Both are the result of a single factor--economic stability. That blessing allows the development of two more, an educated elite, and excess wealth. In effect, the first provides the artists, the second buys their time to pursue their creative instincts. Wealth and economic stability likewise result in an environment conducive to such pursuits. In the Far East, the two major national cultures to achieve the level of economic stability resulting in lasting artistic traditions--an art history--have been China and Japan. That's not to exclude Southeast Asia or Korea, but both of these cultures have been so heavily influenced by the two powerhouses as to be adjuncts rather than unique entities. The other important aspect in the development of a modern artistic culture is the acceptance of foreign influences and the successful melding of them into the existing art of a nation. China has done that, for the most part, only within the past fifty or sixty years. In Japan, such foreign influences date back to the turn of the 20th century.
Hiroshima Museum of Art
Fujishima Takeji
Nude with Peach Blossom,
1902, Fujishima Takeji,
Hiroshima Museum of Art.
There is, in Hiroshima, Japan, a private art museum called (naturally enough) The Hiroshima Museum of Art (left, not to be confused with the huge Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art). It's not large, and it has struggled financially over the years; but it also houses an interesting record of this century-long acceptance of Western (mostly European) art influences, displaying the work of artists such as Seurat, Cezanne, Vuillard, Redon, Soutine, and Modigliani (an interesting combination, perhaps having more to do with the costs of acquisitions than aesthetic or historical factors). However, also in the museum's collection are works by Japanese artists, Kuroda Seiki, Saborusuke Okada, Ryusei Kishida, Kunzo Minami, Maeta Kanji, Yuzo Saeki, and Fujishima Takeji. What these painters have in common is that they all studied for a period of time in Europe, adopting European stylistic influences and European content into their work. Minus the wall labels, any of them could pass for French, Spanish, or Italian artists. Fujishima Takeji (above, right) is an interesting case in point.
Pond, Villa Deste ,1908-09, Fujishima Takeji--Japanese Impressionism?
The Great Buddha at Kamakura,
Fujishima, Takeji
Fujishima Takeji (remember, the family name comes first) was born in 1867 in Kagoshima (that's on the southern tip of the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu). He left home for Tokyo in 1884 at the age of seventeen to study art there in traditional Japanese art academies (the only kind there were at the time). However, that's not to say there was not already Japanese artists teaching Western art, one of them being Yamamoto Hōsui, who, having studied in Paris, was eager to add a European vitalization to what had become an extremely hidebound, conservative, Japanese painting culture. Fujishima Takeji fell under his influence, even though he, himself, could not afford to visit Europe. For twelve years, starting in 1893, Fujishima taught elementary art in Tsu, Mie Prefecture (coastal south-central part of Japan) saving his money to move to Europe to further his studies.

Morning glory and women, 1904, Fujishima Takeji. Not all of the artist's
Western style paintings were done after he went to Europe.

Woman with a Black Fan,
1908, Fujishima Takeji
Fujishima studied at Paris' Ecole des Beaux Arts, as well as their branch, the French Academy in Rome for five years before returning to Tokyo to become a professor at the Tokyo School of Art. He was elected a member of the Imperial Art Academy and was among the first to receive Order of Culture from the Japanese government. He died in 1943 at the age of seventy-six. In little more than half a lifetime, he and his wall-mates in Hiroshima's little museum of art were the driving force in freeing Japanese painting from its stifling medieval past, bringing it into the 20th century.

Scent, 1915, Fujishima Takeji--Japanese subject, European style.

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