Sunday, August 30, 2015

Making An Impression In Art

The Ancient & Modern World

Paul Gauguin’s “Landscape with Two Breton Women” (1889), Pohl writes “is an example of how Impressionists embraced the Japanese style of decorative motifs and flat, contrasting colours.”
Photo Credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Source: MFA


An article, by John Pohl, in the Montreal Gazette looks at two art exhibitions taking place in Quebec City: “Egyptian Magic” at the Musée de la civilization April 10, 2016; and “Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan” at Musée national des beaux-arts until September 27, 2015.

Of the two, the latter one interests me more than the former. Perhaps this reflects an interest based on greater knowledge and accessibility to western art, and notably the Impressionists. In “Japan's influence on Impressionism, ancient Egypt’s magical world meet in Quebec City;” (August 20, 2015), Pohl writes:
At the Musée national des beaux-arts, work by Impressionist painters hang alongside the Japanese prints that inspired their composition, colour scheme and subject. Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan displays 130 works by 100 artists, including such Impressionist luminaries as Van Gogh, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Gauguin and Cassatt, in an exhibition from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Japanese art and culture inspired and influenced all aspects of European life, and it was disseminated by department stores selling Japanese lacquerware as much as by artists. Western culture took Japanese fashion, design and decorative arts and made them its own.
In art, graphic Japanese prints known as ukiyo-e that stress the intimate aspects of life and its ephemeral nature resonated the most. The Japanese engagement with daily life encouraged the Impressionists, whose own depictions of bourgeoisie pleasures were dismissed as frivolous by an academic art world still in thrall to the lessons of history.
“These Japanese artists confirm my belief in our vision,” wrote the Impressionist Camille Pissarro, after seeing an exhibition of ukiyo-e prints in 1893.
Ukiyo-e prints, with their bird’s-eye views and asymmetrical compositions, were a revelation for Western artists trained to depict the world from a single perspective, according to the exhibition catalogue.
The Japanese use of decorative motifs and flat, contrasting colours also attracted Western artists accustomed to using shadows and modelling to create convincing three-dimensional forms. Paul Gauguin’s Landscape with Two Breton Women is an example.
As the Musée national des beaux-arts describes the exhibit  (“Looking East”) on its site, writing that the works “come from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which has one of the largest and most renowned collections of Japanese, American and European art of the period.”

The muted colours direct the eyes to the two Breton women out in the fields, shaded slightly by the trees, doing an everyday activity, an important ritual: eating. The simplicity of life in Brittany appealed to Gaughin, in contrast to the complexity of life in the urban confines of Paris. With this in view (and in mind), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston site writes: “The right-hand figure seems at first to be praying, but in fact she’s eating—holding a piece of fruit, perhaps, in her left hand and a knife in her right. The painting demonstrates a shift in Gauguin’s style away from the brushy, Impressionistic manner of his early career towards the broad, flat expanses of color that characterize his Tahitian pictures.”

What caused artists like Gaughin, Van Gogh and  Toulouse-Lautrec, for example, to move toward such a different style? One answer is given by Patricia Flynn of Yale University. In
“Visions of People: The Influences of Japanese Prints Ukiyo-e Upon Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century French Art, Flynn writes:
During the period of time that the ukiyo-e print was suffering its demise in Japan, it was having a vital impact upon artists and writers in Europe, especially in Paris. Many reasons accounted for the appeal of Japanese art. During this time imperialism in Europe had brought about an interest in other cultures of the world. With the opening of Japan to trade its culture was revealed to Europeans as being not only unusual and strange, but refined and elegant. Japanese culture was conveyed to European intellectuals as possessing artistic values in all aspects of its life. This condition was attractive in light of some of the depressing qualities of the new industrial society in Europe. The refreshing spirit of Japanese art offered a creative alternative to artists who were weary of the Greco-Roman styles of art that were popular at the time.22
Weariness explains much. It either defeats you or compels or guides you to another place or to another way of viewing the world around you. In that regard, the initial bout of weariness, although prolonged and tiring, can actually be a benefit to the artist who is always looking or seeking some renewal of a vision. Some offering of an idea. Some impressions of time and space. The true artist is not static; there is a necessity to look all around, to seek truth in its rendering of the physical and the spiritual, the material and the immaterial. This takes work and effort, not only to do, but, equally important, to maintain. The artistic life is not for the faint of heart. Or mind.

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For more, go to [MontrealGazette]

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