Home Magazine Another example of "Japanese Mania" in Vienna

We definitely know just how important Japanese art has been over the centuries. Also, nowadays, a growing awareness of the latest Japanese experimentations in contemporary art means the whole world is watching. Among the numerous shows about big masters such as Hokusai, Utamaro, Hiroshige and their influence, the exhibition "Fascination Japan: Monet, Van Gogh, Klimt" has just opened, curated by Evelyn Benesch at the Kunstforum Wien. 

Tradition, minuteness, a rigorous sense of balance, shapes and linearity are all factored into the Japanese work process. “Japanese mania” swept through Europe between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century, when in 1858 “The treaty of Amity and commerce” was signed. Also know as “The Harris Treaty” a side effect of this new agreement between the United States and Japan, during the famous Meji dynasty, led Japanese art and culture into the US, Europe and important capitals all over the world.


Emil Orlik. Japanisches Mädchen unterm Weidenbaum, 1901. Farbholzschnitt auf Japanpaier, 18,5 x 35,9 cm. Sammlung Dr. Eugen Otto, Wien


Thanks to Japanese influence, a period of abundance blossomed in the art world, especially in Paris as the main receptive center: the expeditions in the Far East made it possible for Émile Guimet and Enrico Cernuschi to found two great museums dedicated to Eastern culture. But most of all, the influence of Japanese art also manifested itself in the circle of the Impressionists: Claude Monet portrays his wife wrapped in a kimono in “La Japanese” and he had a great collection of Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige’s works in his villa in Giverny. If you love Japanese Art don't miss our article about the recent "Asia Week New York 2018".

As reported in the exhibition’s press release: “This isn’t fashion, it’s passion, it’s madness” – thus did the French critic Ernest Chesneau characterise the mania of the Western public for the extravagant vases, lacquered boxes, fabrics and colour woodcuts that had arrived from the Far East and were on display at the 1878 World Exhibition in Paris. The interest about the east and its relative market did not end at that time. If you are curious about it, take a glance at our article dedicated to the latest news in this field: Contemporary Art migrates to the East!


Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, 1902, Öl auf Leinwand, 65 x 100 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich, Geschenk Walter Haefner, 1995


The curator of the Viennese exhibition emphasizes the presence of Japanese motifs in the work of Claude Monet entitled "Waterloo Bridge" and exhibited at the Kunstforum. There are horizontal formats, reduced figures in a pronounced focus, a combination of bird's eye and close perspectives, as well as large empty spaces in front of a high horizon; compositions that blend decorative arrangements with instant views, black shapes and subtle use of the line. These are some of the stylistic Japanese features that inspire Western artists. Slightly after Monet, are highlighted two works by Degas, one of the first artists to insert the Japanese stylistic vocabulary into his own compositions, as well as Van Gogh whose brother Theo tells of how he was a fanatical collector of Japanese prints, fascinated by the woodcuts of Hokusai and Hiroshige, with their flat surfaces, unnatural colors and unconventional images.

For Van Gogh the French provence became his Japan and here he gave life to a new artistic lecture of the landscape, as Paul Gauguin found his personal Japan on Martinique Island. Clearly the list of artists and artistic movements that had a strong bond with Japanese culture were numerous, and among post-impressionist art we can also list Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec with his unforgettable posters; the concomitant birth of the Liberty Style all over the world; the experience of the “Les Nabis” group with the aforementioned Paul Gauguin but also Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Édouard Vuillard. Japanese art was also really important for the evolution of abstract art, which you can read more about inside our article: A History of Abstract Art.


Wassily Kandinsky. Abenddämmerung, 1904. Holzschnitt, 15,7 x 31,5 cm Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne –
Centre de création industrielle © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais, Paris/image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI.


Shifting the focus slightly towards the Austrian experience, inside the exhibition it is possible to retrace the hybridisations and influences between Japanese art and “The Vienna Secession. Indeed also Vienna was not indifferent to the charm of the Far East, by which Gustav Klimt was extremely impressed and inspired for his own famous decoration, drawing inspirations for his compositions from the Ukiyo-e prints. Even the first woodcuts of the “Der Blaue Reiter” group draw inspiration from the Japanese printing technique and are an example of the works of Kandinski and Münter.

As the curator Evelyn Benesch has stated, more than anyone Franz Marc was extremely inspired for his animal studies, in particular by the Hokusai's lesson about the nature. Thanks to this he incorporated its symbolism, pathos and mystery into his work. Finally, also Paul Klee was inspired by Ukiyo-e, mostly in his definition of landscapes without depth and with superimposed planes.

In Japan there are many enterprises dedicated to art with a double aim to validate both the past and artistic present. One of the latest examples is the Contemporary Art Hub in Naoshima IslandThe last chapter of this huge show is dedicated to a symbolic reading of spirits, heroes and mythical creatures dear to Japanese culture, but also to the latest site-specific work of three contemporary Austrian artists: Margot Pilz, Eva Schlegel and Stephanie Pflaum. The names of important Japanese artist in the contemporary art system are a lot, but among them Chiharu Shiota with her latest work for the Venice Biennal in the 2015, has a much respected position, a full round up of which can be found in our article "Follow the line of Chiharu Shiota...".


Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.