Japan art and Shiba Kokan: Western-style artist of the Edo Period

Japan art and Shiba Kōkan: Western-style artist of the Edo Period

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Shiba Kōkan (1747-1818) hails from Japan. However, despite Japan being relatively isolated throughout the Edo Period, Chinese culture still was potent concerning high culture and other important areas of society. Also, windows of Western culture had minor gaps to enter the artistic landscape of Japan – albeit if extremely limited during the lifetime of Kōkan.

Kōkan was intrigued by Dutch culture. Hence, you can feel the influence of Dutch art within many of his art pieces. He studied other aspects of Dutch culture and ideas. Also, Kōkan had a deep knowledge of Western astronomy.

The British Museum says, “From the late 1770s, however, Kokan became interested in Western-style painting and succeeded in producing the first copperplate etchings in Japan in 1783. He then began the study of oil painting and became a fully fledged Western-style painter.”

Thus from the earlier influence of the Kano School of Art and ukiyo-e, Kōkan moved away from the Japanese angle to Western-style art. This was extremely rare for the overwhelming majority of Japanese artists in this period of history (the 1770s and 1780s).

The Minato City website says, “In 1783 he produced Japan’s first etching. He also played the role of natural science educator with an enterprising spirit by socializing with scholars of Western studies, such as Gentaku Otsuki, a prominent doctor of Dutch medicine, and by showing an interest in Western knowledge, such as the foreign commerce and those involved in it in Nagasaki at that time.”

Kōkan went against the Japanese artistic grain during the Edo Period. This concerns the late eighteenth century. He also focused meticulously on a book he wrote about Nicolaus Copernicus.



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