Japanese Prints

By the second half of the nineteenth century, Japonism was at its height of popularity in France.  Japonism refers to a taste for everything that comes from Japan: arts, clothing, and decorative objects. Japanese prints in particular fascinated the Impressionists and their contemporaries. Their bright, solid colours, “exotic” subject matter, and daring use of perspective made them very different in style from western art practices.

During his lifetime, Van Gogh and his brother Theo collected more than 400 Japanese prints. He bought his first few in Antwerp, Belgium but his collection rapidly expanded during his time in Paris, where these prints were popular and relatively inexpensive.

Van Gogh’s development of the close-up view was heavily influenced by these prints and their unconventional aesthetic qualities, such as high horizon lines, tilted perspectives and the emphasis on a detail of nature such as a tree branch or trunk. The artist also found a deeper meaning in Japanese art. He praised the Japanese artist for his virtue in focusing on the infinite beauty of fundamental things – such as a single blade of grass.

The exhibition Van Gogh: Up Close features close to 20 Japanese woodblock prints from the Collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Philadelphia Museum of Art