Van Gogh like many of his post impressionist and impressionist contemporaries was influenced by Japanese art. These artists living in Europe at the time, including Monet, Degas, Gauguin and Van Gogh, all admired traditional Japanese art and specifically the Japanese woodblock prints. In 1886, Van Gogh began exploring Japonisme, and by 1887, he had created several works reflecting the bold colors and simple lines known in this style of art.
Possibly his most famous work to show this style is Almond Blossom, 1890. However, there were several other works that he created that were directly after Japanese artists including Utagawa Hiroshige and Keisaï Eisen. These works include Japonaiserie: Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige), Japonaiserie: Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige), and Japonaiserie: Oiran (after Keisaï Eisen) all shown below.
In a letter to his brother Theo from September 8, 1888 Van Gogh wrote about another famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, known for his print The Great Wave off Kanagawa, and how he admired his work “Hokusai wrings the same cry from you, but he does it by his line, his drawing; as you say in your letter – the waves are claws and the ship is caught in them, you feel it.”
Then on September 24, 1888 Van Gogh wrote again to his brother on the topic of Japanese art, “And one cannot study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming merrier and happier, and we should turn back to nature in spite of our education and our work in a conventional world.”
Learn more about Japonisme and Van Gogh.