The impact of Japanese wood carving on Impressionism in painting
Impressionism is celebrated as a revolution in world art history in terms of technology as well as image thinking, but we still have to mention the Japanese trend with typical Wood carvings have influenced many of the typical artists in the West and contributed to a clearer definition of Impressionism in painting.
Japanese wood carving techniques (Ukiyo-e, in other words) began to appear in the late seventeenth century in the capital of Edo (present-day Tokyo) with monochrome prints. Later in the mid-eighteenth century, color prints flourished with the appearance of two masters in this area: Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. The objects in the painting are mainly girls, geisha, sumo fighters or kabuki actors. The subject exploited in the original painting is a life full of joy in the middle of prosperity: from entertainment to quiet scenes.
However, the landscape of nature, birds and trees began to flourish during the later stages of Japanese woodblock painting thanks to the great contributions of Hokusai and Hiroshige. If Hokusai was formally heavy, Hiroshige was more focused on expressing his mood through his works. Ukiyo-e will forever be Japan’s own treasure without the Western trade opening in 1853.
After Hokusai and Hiroshige died and the Europeanization of the Meiji reform in 1868 made ukiyo-e decline in both quality and quantity. While Japanese painting techniques became obsolete in the country, in the West, that traditional art began to become a fever because of its extremely different characteristics and content.
Claude Monet, the pioneer of the Impressionist school, coincidentally, is also one of the painter who had access to the earliest Japanese wood carvings when traveling to the Netherlands, stumbling upon gift wrapping papers ukiyo-e and later in the heart of Paris thanks to the International Exhibition in 1878. He became a collector of Japanese woodblock works, filling his walls in southern France with the paintings he collected.
Through a cut of art history, the more serious the learners’ learning is, the more it is merely mere copying. This is not really a cultural exchange between the East and the West when it is not yet a balanced exchange when the two artistic processes go against each other, but it is indispensable for the historical process to take new steps.