Japanese art and Claude Monet

Japanese art and Claude Monet

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Claude Monet was a very important French Impressionist artist and despite new movements including Cubism and Fauvism, he remained committed to Impressionism. Another major art theme that would shape Monet was Japanese ukiyo-e because he became smitten by the contrasting approach to art. Therefore, Monet utilized these two powerful art movements, the upshot being stunning art pieces that remain etched within the memory.

The Impressionist art movement altered the artistic world dramatically because it created a new energy that incorporated innovation. Indeed, for Monet, Impressionism was a philosophy that remained potent and buried in his artistic soul until parting from this world.

Monet was born in 1840 in Paris and died in 1926. Throughout his long life, he created extremely stunning art pieces that remain internationally admired. From an early age Monet adored art and in his formative years, he took lessons from Jacques-Francois Ochard. However, his early mentor who taught him about using oil paints was Eugene Boudin, a fellow artist. Monet and Boudin also benefitted from the influence of Johan Barthold Jongkind.

The year 1857 was very dramatic and full of sadness because Monet’s mother died. From this period to the early 1860s he witnessed many highs and lows because several family members were opposed to his focus on art. In the early 1860s, he served in the French army in Algeria and was meant to have stayed for seven years. However, after suffering from typhoid fever he was allowed to leave early because of the actions of his aunt – and the reported prompting of Jongkind.

Monet in 1862 could finally concentrate on art. However, he wasn’t interested in following traditional art because his eyes had been opened to new artistic concepts. He now became a student under Charles Gleyre in the dynamic city of Paris. In time he would meet powerful artists like Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Frederic Bazille. These artists were focused on new approaches to art and soon the Impressionist movement would radically alter the artistic landscape. Therefore, because of these individuals – and others who were dedicated to new artistic concepts – a rich flow of art would galvanize the art world that remains vibrant today despite the longevity of time.

The 1870s was a very dramatic period for Monet because the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 triggered many new events. This revolutionary fervor gripped Paris and led to many upheavals – while creating new ideas. During the same period, Monet was touched by Japanese printmaking called ukiyo-e. This love affair would stay with him for the rest of his life. However, the death of his wife from tuberculosis in 1879, after several years of illness, shattered Monet because he doted on Camille Doncieux.

Turning back to the impact of Japanese art on Monet, the writer Don Morrison (Time Magazine) stipulates, “One day in 1871, legend has it, a French artist named Claude Monet walked into a food shop in Amsterdam, where he had gone to escape the Prussian siege of Paris. There he spotted some Japanese prints being used as wrapping paper. He was so taken by the engravings that he bought one on the spot. The purchase changed his life — and the history of Western art.”

Morrison continues, “Monet went on to collect 231 Japanese prints, which greatly influenced his work and that of other practitioners of Impressionism, the movement he helped create. Under the new Meiji Emperor, Japan in the 1870s was just opening to the outside world after centuries of isolation. Japanese handicrafts were flooding into European department stores and art galleries. Japonisme, a fascination with all things Japanese, was soon the rage among French intellectuals and artists, among them Vincent van Gogh, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro and the young Monet. Perhaps for that reason Impressionism caught on early in Japan and remains ferociously popular there.”

While it is known that Monet adored ukiyo-e you still have major debates about how Japanese prints influenced him personally. This topic is still up in the air to many art experts. Hence, the opinion varies greatly.

On the following website (http://www.intermonet.com/japan/) it is stated, “Art historians do not agree about this point: was Monet really under Japanese influence, or did he seek confirmations of his own research in Eastern art?”

This website continues, “However, an attentive eye can establish interesting connections. The influence of the prints on Monet’s art can be noted in the subjects he chose, in the composition, in light… But Monet knew how to be inspired without borrowing. His paintings diverge, from the prints by many aspects. The Japanese artists liked to feature the anecdotic or dramatic moments, Monet concentrated on light, which was the very subject of the canvas – the object was no more than (a) medium to convey the plays of light.”

Art historians can either play up or play down the influence of ukiyo-e within the art of Monet. Yet, it appears shallow to negate the new concepts emanating from Japan that became a fresh piece of artistic air for many Impressionist artists. Either way, Monet was clearly charmed by the ukiyo-e of individuals including Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro. This isn’t open to debate. After all, not only did Monet buy a vast amount of ukiyo-e art prints but he also created a Japanese garden in his cherished home. Indeed, Monet – and other important Impressionists – were clearly inspired by many aspects of ukiyo-e; irrespective of how they utilized this delightful approach to art.

Obviously, the cultural dimension could never be bridged because of different thought patterns and factors behind both respective art movements. However, the richness of ukiyo-e and the freshness of this style did reinvigorate many artists in Europe and North America. Therefore, while the degree of influence may vary to respective artists who adored ukiyo-e, it is clear that new artistic concepts emerged.

The love affair that Monet found with the land of the rising sun remains powerful in modern Japan. After all, without a shadow of a doubt, Monet is one of the most popular international artists in this country. Therefore, the “love affair” worked both ways and this “spark” remains extremely bright today in modern Japan.

Modern Tokyo News is part of the Modern Tokyo Times group

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