Van Gogh and Japanese Art, Part 1
The Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige) & Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige)
In the years following the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854, Japanese isolation ended and large numbers of Japanese artifacts made their way into Europe. The 1867 World’s Fair, Paris Exposition Universelle, had a display of Japanese art that wooed the crowds and was the first exposure many Westerners had to the Japanese style. The Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists such as Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin were all inspired by Japanese woodblock prints.
It is believed that Van Gogh was first exposed to Japanese prints in Antwerp in 1885. He bought a number of Japanese prints to decorate the walls of his studio at the time and became an avid collector amassing a large assortment, over 400 of which are now held in the Van Gogh Museum.
Van Gogh studied the Japanese style and technique, including a different vantage point and compositional strategy. He attempted to imitate the flat and decorative aspects of Japanese art in his paintings. These were new concepts to him. At first Van Gogh simply copied Japanese prints.
Ando Hiroshige was a great master of Ukiyo-e in Japan and was well known for his landscape prints. Van Gogh made copies of two of his prints, Plum Garden at Kameido and Sudden Shower over Ohashi Bridge. Both of these prints were published in the book One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. In Van Gogh’s copies, The Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige) and Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige), we see a difference from the originals in the colors Van Gogh used. His colors are brighter and create a more enhanced color contrast than the originals. He also took the liberty of creating frames which comprised what he believed to be Japanese characters around the paintings.