Vincent van Gogh, , 1889, oil on canvas, 60 x 49 cm, Courtauld Institute, London

The painting shows Vincent posed against a wall on which there is a Japanese print. He was an admirer of the Japanese painting style, and for a time his brother Theo was dealer in the prints which were popular at the time.

European artists  were seeking an alternative style to the strict academic demands.


Claude Monet : La Japonaise, portrait de Madame Monet en kimono, 1876, oil on canvas, 232 x 142 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA

This was Monet’s first wife Camille Doncieux, who died at the age of 33.


George Hendrik Breitner, Meisje in witte kimono,1894, oil on canvas, 59 x 57 cm, Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands


Claude Monet, Le Bassin aux nymphéas, 1899, University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ, USA

During the Kaei era, 1848–1854, after more than 200 years of seclusion, foreign merchant ships of various nationalities began to visit Japan. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan ended a long period of national isolation and became open to imports from the West, including photography and printing techniques. With this new opening in trade, Japanese art and artifacts began to appear in small curiosity shops in Paris and London.

Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan and was intrumental in forcing Japan to engage in trade with western countries, after two hundred years of isolation, through the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854.

Shown here are a portrait of Perry exaggerating his western features: the oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose; a comment on what some elements of Japanese society thought of the treaty, and the scene of a meeting between Japanese and American offiicals

The main source of influence of western art was via the Ukiyo-e which is a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries. Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. The term ukiyo-e, translates as “pictures of the floating world“, with the insistence that all is transitory.


Hishikawa Moronobu, Beauty Looking Back, Edo period, 17th Century, National Museum, Tokyo, Japan


Keisai, Camellias with a Bird, 1789, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA


Kesai, The Grey Thrush, 1789, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA


Katsushika Hokusai, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa, c1831, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK

Japonisme began as a craze for collecting Japanese art, particularly ukiyo-e. Some of the first samples of ukiyo-e were to be seen in Paris. In about 1856 the French artist Félix Bracquemond first came across a copy of the sketch book Hokusai Mangaat the workshop of his printer, Auguste Delâtre. The sketchbook had arrived in Delâtre’s workshop shortly after Japanese ports had opened to the global economy in 1854; therefore, Japanese artwork had not yet gained popularity in the West. In the years following this discovery, there was an increase of interest in Japanese prints. They were sold in curiosity shops, tea warehouses, and larger shops. Shops such as La Porte Chinoise specialized in the sale of Japanese and Chinese imports. La Porte Chinoise, in particular, attracted artists James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas who drew inspiration from the prints.


Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, L’admiratrice du Japon, 1865, oil on canvas, Cummer Museum of Art, Jacksonville, FL, USA


James McNeill Whistler, The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, 1865, oil on canvas, 202 x 116 cm, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA

Mary Cassatt became interested in the Japanese print, and became an important figure in spreading interest in Japonisme, especially in the United States.


Mary Cassatt, The Coiffure, 1890-1891, drypoint and aquatint on laid paper, 43 x 31 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA


Mary Cassatt, The Child’s Bath. 1893


Mary Cassatt, Woman Bathing, 1891, drypoint, etching & aquatint, 32 x 25 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa, Canada


Mary Cassatt, The Letter, 1890-91

and the print which influenced it


Kitagawa Utamaro, The Courtesan Hinazuru, 1794


Edouard Manet, Emile Zola, 1868, oil on canvas, 147 x  114  cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

On the wall behind Zola, Manet has depicted his own painting, Olympia, 1895, which the writer considered his best work, and an engraving after the Bacchus by Velázquez, which represents the admiration which both Manet and Zola had for Spanish art.

In a prominent position there is a print of the Japanes wrestler Utagawa Kuniaki II .


Utagawa Kuniaki II, Sumô Wrestler Ônaruto Nadaemon of Awa Province, 1860, 38 x 26 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA

To complete the picture, Manet placed a Japanese screen to the left of the sitter

Le père Tanguy was a supplier of paints and an art dealer. Here are two portraits by van Gogh, of him in his shop surrounded by Japanese prints.


Vincent van Gogh, Portait du père Tanguy, 1887, oil on canvas, 65 x 51 cm, Musée Rodin, Paris, France


Vincent van Gogh, Portait du père Tanguy, 1887-78, oil on canvas, 65 x 51 cm, Private Collection

One of van Gogh’s own works can be seen in the bottom right hand corner.


Vincent van Gogh, Le Courtesan, d’après Eisen, 1887-78 , oil on canvas, 101 x 61 c, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

BT, 16 January, 2018


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