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Fine Art PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Ordrupgaard Presents Encountering Japan Exhibition

Ordrupgaard presents Encountering Japan. Degas, Monet, Gauguin… on view through 23.January 2011.

Few people know that the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, like Monet, Degas and Gauguin, were inspired by Japanese wood cuts.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, The Monk Mongaku Collections de la Bibliotèque municipale de Rouen. Photography Thierry Ascencio-Parvy

The exhibition Encountering Japan. Degas, Monet, Gauguin… telsl the story of this significant encounter between East and West. Ordrupgaard will present more than 150 wood cuts and show how the Japanese influence is expressed in works of artists such as Manet, Degas, Morisot and Gauguin etc. from the collection of the museum.

Japanese art and the West
For a long time, the rich art of Japan was unknown to the West. All contact had been banished through centuries, but in 1854 the country was opened to trade with the West, and trade agreements were made. Great quantities of Japanese wood cuts arrived at the art fairs in Europe. In Paris the wood cuts quickly became a sensation and at the World Fair in 1867 the wide public got the chance to experience a bigger representation of the Japanese art.

These impressions were crucial to the contemporary artists. The different images were a visual shock, and the Japanese wood cuts had fundamental influence on French Impressionism. Artists like Manet and Monet, Degas and Sisley were amazed by the surprising compositions, courageous cropping, and they let themselves be inspired by the different motifs. Evocative and poetic landscapes with depictions of fog, rain and snow – as they saw in Hokusai and Hiroshige – were to characterize the canvases of the French Impressionists.

The ability of endowing the artistic with a natural impulsiveness was in stark contrast to the academism and intellectualism of parts of the Western art.

And ’japonism’ – as the fascination of Japan was denominated – became a part of a general current of a longing to return to origin and sensibility, innocence and imaginativeness. The artists began to change their view of their surroundings and changed the mimetic depictions in favour of a more decorative and flat imagery without shadows.

The Japanese wood cut
The famous Japanese art of wood cutting is known under the name ukiyo-e, which in English means ‘the floating world’. The wood cuts are genre images with motifs from everyday life. They belong to a hundred year long tradition since the beginning of the 15th Century and bound to the flourishing city culture during the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867). In the beginning the wood cuts primarily showed depictions of prostitutes, actors and sumo wrestlers, but in the 19th Century depictions appeared of landscapes and famous locations in Japan.

Originally, the wood cuts were considered vulgar. Later on, they were to be regarded as epoch-making. They were cheap to produce in great quantities and they reached a wide public. Today, Hokusai and Hiroshige – who established the landscape as an individual genre in the first part of the 19th Century – remain the most famous names, but there were numerous excellent artists.

The exhibition presents wood cuts from both the Edo- (1603-1867) and the Meiji period (1868-1912) in Japan, however, the focus is the 19th Century, where the wood cuts received great prestige. The exhibition shows a wider presentation of artists than usually experienced with names such as Moronobu – the founder of the art of the wood cut – Harunobu, Utamaro, Kunisada, Yoshitora Kuniyoshi and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, who was one of the last Japanese wood cut artists of the 19th Century.

The wood cuts can be experienced for the purpose of their great aesthetic values, however, in the eyes of the Japanese ukiyo-e is more than art work. The prints were an integrated part of their everyday life and functioned as decoration, as a way of teaching values and as presentation of the community heroes among samurais and the actors of the Kabuki theatre.

Mutual exchange of ideas
The both naive and brilliant imagery of the Japanese artists also became an endless source of inspiration for the generation of artists after the impressionists, and thus, they got decisive influence on Paul Gauguin. The inspiration however, was reciprocal since Japanese society and culture was strongly modernized with the return of the emperor and the beginning of the Meiji period in 1868. Hereby, the Japanese artists were acquainted with the art of the West, and it was now their turn to be inspired. They discovered another way of colouring and powerful colour pigments like ’Prussian blue’. The delicate pastel tones were forgotten in favour of experimentation with pure colours as blue and red. The Japanese interpretation of Western art would again fascinate the Western artists and enhance the Japanese currents on more time.

Even though the two cultures were strangers to one another to begin with, a very rewarding exchange of ideas happened between these two distinct parts of the planet.

The Japanese collection from Rouen
The great, Japanese material – recently discovered from several collections in Rouen – originate from the very period where this cultural encounter happened.

These collections urge considerations about the meaning of the encounter between different cultures and the reciprocal inspiration between art from the East and West.

The French public has been overwhelmed by the rediscovery of these collections, which contain real surprises and show a very wide presentation of artists and a big quantity of original prints from the Edo- and Meiji periods. Not at least, the artists of the Utagawa school are strongly represented as all fifteen volumes of the famous sketch book, the Manga, by Hokusai. Additionally, the collections contain a range of fascinating miniature objects and traditional dolls.

’Japonism’ in the collection of Ordrupgaard
The collection of the museum Ordrupgaard contains a large selection of works by the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists such as Manet, Degas, Morisot, Sisley and Gauguin, who developed their painting under influence from Japanese wood cuts. The Impressionists were fascinated by the motifs of the wood cuts and the focus on women doing their everyday activities, landscapes with rocks, waves, tree trunks and compositions with ornamental patterns and flowers.

The exhibition is supported by: KONSUL GEORG JORCK OG HUSTRU EMMA JORCK´S FOND Augustinus Fonden, Beckett-Fonden, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling, Oticon Fonden, Krista og Viggo Petersens Fond, Toyota- Fonden og ØK’s Almennyttige Fond Montana has sponsered the exhibition showcases.

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