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Japanese Prints

Japanese Prints

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore Japanese prints and Japonisme in European art.

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Tutorial

An overview of Japanese prints and their influence on western art.

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 Japanese prints As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the influence of Japanese prints on Western artwork, and identify examples of Japanese prints.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Japanisme, a French style describing the period in which Japanese art, especially woodcut prints, influenced Western art from the 19th century.

Japanese Woodblock, a technique of printing where wood planks were cut from the grain of cherry wood and water-based inks were applied.

Diagonal Axis, a central line that divides a composition at an angle, rather than a vertical.

Ukiyo-e, a genre of art by artists of the Ukiyo-e school, known as the "floating world", a hedonistic and transient group, who created seductive scenes of urban culture and entertainment during the Edo, 1615 to 1868, and early Meiji, 1868 to 1912, periods in Japan.

The big idea for today is that in the late 19th century, Japan opened up to the west for the first time in 200 years, exposing the west to the Japanese culture and artistic style that had been cultivated during that time.

We'll be looking at the period from 1826 to 1892.

And we'll be traveling to Edo, or modern-day Tokyo, in Japan.

So in 1868, courtesy of United States Commodore Matthew Perry, Japan opened up to exposure from the west for the first time in 200 years. Now this was a pretty big deal. Imagine a society completely isolating itself, more or less, for two centuries. And then within a matter of years, completely exposing itself to outside influence.

There would be a certain degree, you can imagine, of culture shock on both sides, Eastern and Western. During the late 19th century, Japanese prints flooded the European market. The availability meant that they weren't necessarily looked at as particularly important or special, maybe analogous to the modern-day flyer or pamphlet in that way.

Now the artist Monet recalled purchasing cheese that had been wrapped in a Japanese print. And they're actually sometimes used as ballast on ships. However, the Japanese influence spread throughout Europe, becoming a major trend in European culture. Now many artists, such as Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, incorporated Japanese themes and stylistic elements into their work. Van Gogh himself actually directly copied numerous prints, including this original by the artist Hiroshige.

Now this print may look familiar to you. You've seen it before. It's by the artist Henri de Toulouse Lautrec. And it's another example of the Japanese influence on European art, specifically the flattening of forms, the use of unnaturalistic colors, like the yellow background, for example, and the use of a diagonal axis.

Now the boon in trade for Japan saw the rise of Japanese merchants. However, they were common and considered non-people by the Shogunate, the ruling militaristic clan that existed at the time in Japan. Now merchants were limited to the Yoshiwara district of Edo, which is modern-day Tokyo, again, where they could actually spend their money.

This influx of money caused the development of certain forms of entertainment, like actors, wrestlers, courtesans, and geisha. These, along with other fleeting pleasures of life, as well as landscapes, became major subjects of the artwork of the time. These are all examples of the so-called floating world, which are depictions of the urban culture and entertainment of Edo in a genre of art that became known as Ukiyo-e. Ukiyo-e was essentially art of the common man.

One of the most famous examples is of the artist Hokusai's 36 views of Mount Fuji, one of which we're seeing here. This is the very famous image called "The Great Wave". Sometimes mistakenly referred to as a tsunami, it's more likely an open water wave that's causing trouble for the boats and possibly fishermen off the coast of the Kanagawa prefecture, or county, which is close to Edo.

So that brings us to the end of our lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the influence of Japanese prints on Western art work? And can you identify examples of Japanese prints?

Once again, the big idea for today is that in the late 19th century, Japan opened up to the west for the first time in 200 years, exposing the west to the Japanese culture and artistic style that had been cultivated during that time.

That's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Japanese Prints"

Key Terms

Japonisme

A French style describing the period in which Japanese art, especially woodcut prints, influenced western art from the 19th-century.

Japanese Woodblock

A technique of printing where wood planks were cut from the grain of cherry wood and water-based inks were applied.

Diagonal Axis

A central line that divides a composition at an angle rather than a vertical.

Ukiyo-e

A genre of art by artists of the Ukiyo-e School, known as the "floating world", a hedonistic and transient group, who created seductive scenes of urban culture and entertainment during the Edo (1615-1868) and early Meiji (1868-1912) periods in Japan.

Citations

Image of La Reine de Joie Public Domain http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lautrec_reine_de_joie_(poster)_1892.jpg; The Great Wave; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2.jpgPlum Garden; Public Domain (PD-1923): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hiroshige_Pruneraie_%C3%A0_Kameido.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Ukiyo-e

    A genre of art by artists of the Ukiyo-e School, known as the "floating world", a hedonistic and transient group, who created seductive scenes of urban culture and entertainment during the Edo (1615-1868) and early Meiji (1868-1912) periods in Japan.

  • Diagonal Axis

    A central line that divides a composition at an angle rather than a vertical.

  • Japanese Woodblock

    A technique of printing where wood planks were cut from the grain of cherry wood and water-based inks were applied.

  • Japonisme

    A French style describing the period in which Japanese art, especially woodcut prints, influenced western art from the 19th-century.