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Influence of Japanese Prints & Primitivism on Post-Impressionism

Influence of Japanese Prints & Primitivism on Post-Impressionism

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will examine primitivism and the influence of Japanese prints within the movement of post-Impressionism.

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Tutorial

The Influence of Japanese Prints & Primitivism on Post-Impressionism

Examining how Japanese prints and Primitivism influenced the Post-Impressionist artists Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

Video Transcription

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Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about The Influence of Japanese Prints and Primitivism on Post-Impressionism. As you watch the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or align as often as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By en d the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the influence of primitivism on Paul Gauguin's artwork using examples from this lesson, and describe the influence of Japanese prints and Vincent Van Gogh's and Gauguin's artwork using examples from this lesson.

Key terms as always are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term and only key term is primitivism, a Western art movement that borrows visual forms based on the belief that the visual qualities of non-western people are superior to those of contemporary civilizations. The big idea for today is that eastern stylistic elements-- like the flattened forms and colors of Japanese woodblock prints and the simpler style of Pacific Islander art-- were incorporated into the artwork of artists such as Van Gogh and Gauguin.

We'll be looking at artwork from between 1887 and 1892 today. We'll be traveling to Arles France, where Van Gogh was living and working at the time and Tahiti French Polynesia where Gauguin was living and working. So we'll be looking at post-Impressionist artists today, Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh. Now first, we're going to discuss the influence that Japanese woodcut prints had on their work.

During the late 19th century, Japan became open once more to Western cultures after literally closing their doors so to speak for around 200 years. Now as Japanese artwork, particularly prints, began to spread west. Artists began experimenting with incorporating stylistic elements of Japanese art into their own compositions.

A few of the things you'll notice in these works of art is their common stylistic elements inspired by Japanese prints, specifically their flattened forms and their use of color. Now notice, like in this example, The Vision After the Sermon, is the unrealistic color, the red of the background of this painting. Now this is a common theme in Japanese prints, the use of unnaturalistic colors.

Now one of the other very common traits among these paintings is in their use of an unusual perspective. This was another common theme in Japanese prints. For example, in this painting, the point of view is situated behind a diagonal tree branch. Compare this to our next work of art by Van Gogh called The Flowering Plum Tree.

This is actually a very faithful copy of an actual print by the Japanese artist Hiroshige. Now what do you notice right away? Is it the flattened two-dimensional forms of the trees, the unnatural reddish magenta color of the sky perhaps, or the unusual point of view directly behind a diagonal tree branch? That in particular is an interesting aspect of Japanese art as if we're spying on something that's happening in the background. A procession in this case of which is just barely visible. Van made several direct copies like this one of Japanese prints, but he also incorporated stylistic elements of Japanese prints.

We can see further examples of this or evidence of this incorporation in this image titled, The Sower by Van Gogh. Now Van Gogh combines several different elements in this composition depicting a man planting seeds-- a theme he repeated in several other sower paintings. Now notice how the brush strokes are obvious and deliberately placed as well as the thick buildup of paint called impasto in the sun.

Now the influence of impressionism is apparent, but then notice how the forms are very flattened, the unnatural use of color in the field and the sky. And once again, our point of view is fixed from behind a diagonal tree. Now once you start to notice this pattern, it's very easy to spot in works of art.

The primitivism refers to the artistic movement that looked at the visual qualities of non-western cultures as superior to those of the contemporary civilization. Now it's a bit of a backhanded compliment. On one hand, you're extolling the qualities of a culture, and on the other hand, you're referring to these cultures as primitive.

Now Gauguin's motivation at the time was to seek out a simpler world, uncorrupted by civilization. He looked for the primitive in Brittany, which is in Northwestern France. Then moved to the south of France, then in a French colony in the South Pacific, on the island of Tahiti, where he eventually settled after leaving his wife and five children behind by the way. Although in all fairness, I think they were kind of done with him too.

He felt that European art had become exhausted, so he looked to other cultures as a form of inspiration and rejuvenation. He incorporated stylistic influences from the art of Pacific Islanders, most notably the flattened shape and color, and overall, simpler looking images. Now the subject in this painting is his naked 14-year-old Tahitian wife lying on the bed, possibly imagining the image of the old woman in the background.

Now his use of fluorescent color is interesting here as these colors were associated with spirits in the local belief system. His use of color and reduction of forms is another precursor to the art movements of the early 20th century.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the influence of primitivism on Paul Gauguin's artwork using examples from this lesson? Can you describe the influence of Japanese prints on Vincent Van Gogh's and Gauguin's artwork using examples from this lesson?

Once again the big idea for today is that eastern stylistic elements-- like the flattened forms and colors of Japanese woodblock prints and the simpler style Pacific Islander art-- we're incorporated into the artwork of artists such as Van Gogh and Gauguin. And there you have it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "The Influence of Japanese Prints & Primitivism on Post-Impressionism"

Key Terms

Primitivism

A Western art movement that borrows visual forms based on the belief that the visual qualities of non-western people are superior to those of contemporary civilizations.

Citations

Vision After the Sermon; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_Gauguin_137.jpg Flowering Plum Tree; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Van_Gogh_the_blooming_plumtree_%28after_Hiroshige%29,_1887.jpg Spirit of the Dead Watching; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_Gauguin-_Manao_tupapau_%28The_Spirit_of_the_Dead_Keep_Watch%29.JPG; Image of The Sower Public Domain http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/vincent-van-gogh/sower-1888

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Primitivism

    A Western art movement that borrows visual forms based on the belief that the visual qualities of non-western people are superior to those of contemporary civilizations.