Japanese Art and Power of France: Henri Rousseau and Oka Shikanosuke
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Oka Shikanosuke (1898-1978) took a familiar path for many Japanese artists in this period by moving to France in 1924. The impression of Paris and the French cultural scene must have enchanted Oka Shikanosuke during this period of his life because he stayed until 1939. Artists like Henri Rousseau and Odilon Redon influenced him greatly and the connection between Oka Shikanosuke and Henri Rousseau is visually powerful.
Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) was born in Northern France and from a young age he was fascinated by the arts. If circumstances had been more fortunate then he would have focused more heavily on art and music but his family background was working-class. Therefore, from a financial point of view he faced many restraints. However, his background enabled him to focus on art in a different way because becoming an artist was never going. This applies to the reality of elitism, monetary issues, being outside of powerful circles, and other restraints.
Henri Rousseau therefore was free to teach himself and to follow his own path. This was very liberating despite the hardships and difficulties he faced. Technical wise he also focused on a way that suited his logic and style. Therefore, he would paint from the top of the canvas first and likewise he would paint the colors singularly.
Dieter Wanczura, www.artelino.com, comments about Henri Rousseau that “Somehow Henri Rousseau got the attention of some professional avant-garde artists. The discussion whether they took him serious or if he was only some kind of exotic amusement for them fills many books. Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, Odilon Redon, Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin and later Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Wassily Kandinsky certainly appreciated his works.”
“It is astonishing and impressive at the same time how this man from the working class and without any academic art training was able to find a style of his own and how he was immune against adopting anything from the avant-garde artists around him. From an outsider who finally got some limited acceptance, you would expect some eager readiness to absorb the styles of the established art world or to experiment with the trendy styles of his avant-garde comrades like impressionism, post-impressionism, fauvism or cubism. Not so for Henri. And this makes him so unique.”
Henri Rousseau overcame many obstacles and more important, he remained true to himself and didn’t suffer from an inferiority complex. This meant that he felt comfortable with the art he produced and understood the power of his own methodology.
This aspect about Henri Rousseau must have intrigued Oka Shikanosuke because in many ways he was a unique artist. Oka Shikanosuke will also have been extremely familiar with Japanese, Chinese, and Western art movements and this will have applied to past history and during his lifetime. It could well be that Oka Shikanosuke was attracted by the uniqueness of Henri Rousseau and that this also created internal freedom for himself.
The path of Oka Shikanosuke was a million miles away from Henri Rousseau when it came to education and learning at famous institutions. During his time in France he met many Japanese artists like Tsuguharu Fujita and many more who were connected to the Ecole de Paris. Also, during his stay in France he taught himself techniques related to oil painting.
Oka Shikanosuke clearly admired Henri Rousseau and other artists like Odilon Redon. Indeed, it is clear that many landscape and still life pieces of art by Oka Shikanosuke were tributes to Henri Rousseau. The love that Oka Shikanosuke felt for his art is witnessed by him introducing Henri Rousseau to a much wider audience in Japan. Suzuki Tsuneshi (1930-2000) also helped greatly because of being the owner of the Pola Orbis Group which built the elegant and vibrant Pola Collection. Therefore, the relationship between Oka Shikanosuke and Suzuki Tsuneshi must be given great credit for highlighting the richness of Henri Rousseau to the Japanese public.
The artist Oka Shikanosuke is a notable artist in his own right and in 1972 he was rewarded for the many areas of his art work, and how he helped so many individuals during his lifetime. Therefore, he received the Order of Cultural Merit which was richly deserved. Many aspects of the art of both Henri Rousseau and Oka Shikanosuke are based on grace and tranquility irrespective of the theme that the art work is based on. They both belong to different generations and culture however through art everything was bridged and this can be seen by the art work of both artists. Oka Shikanosuke took Henri Rousseau to heart despite never meeting in the flesh because of the generation gap.
Oka Shikanosuke – Image 2, 4 & 6
Henri Rousseau Image 1, 3 & 5
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