Friday, December 3, 2010

Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism

Arthur Wesley Dow

In 1896 the artist Arthur Wesley Dow designed a poster for an important exhibition of Japanese prints organized by his friend Fenollosa in New York. Dow had met Fenollosa some years earlier, after studying in Paris and Pont-Aven, where he had been introduced to Japanese art. Fenollosa found a kindred spirit in the young Dow, who had already been exposed to “modern art” as practiced by French artists such as Gauguin and, more important to Fenollosa, had also discovered the art of Hokusai. In 1890 Dow wrote to Minnie Pearson, who would soon be his wife, “It is now plain to me that Whistler and Pennell whom I have admired as great originals are only copying the Japanese. One evening with Hokusai gave me more light on composition and decorative effect than years of study of pictures. I surely ought to compose in an entirely different manner.”

 By the late 1890's, Dow was well known as a teacher and writer about design and it was though Dow's teaching that California artists were most influenced by Japanese prints. Dow influenced an even greater number of students through his landmark book Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers. First published in 1899, it subsequently went through twenty editions. Heavily illustrated with diagrams and designs, many of them based on Japanese models, the book revealed the importance of line, color, and nπtan (a Japanese term describing the relationship between light and dark areas) to compositional structure.

One of the delights of the current show on Japanese prints at the Legion is the gallery showcasing the work of American, particularly California artists. There were several women artists represented who I had never heard about. These woodblock prints came from the archives of the California State Libraries and some have not been shown in public for several decades. Once the show is over, they will go back into the archives and disappear from public view. I have no idea how the public can access private viewings of this art work so go and see them while you still can. Given the current state of California's finances, it would not surprise me to hear that they've been sold to finance the State's debt. Stranger things have happened.
Catalog from the Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism

1 comment:

Tracy said...

These remind me of Ivan Bilibin's work. (And wow, he looks like Joseph Fiennes! I'd never looked at a portrait of him before.