Looking East

Western Artists and the Allure of Japan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – on Exhibit Until May 10

Looking East is the first major exhibition from the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston(MFA), to survey the rich connections among Japan, Europe, and North America around 1900. The extraordinary influence of Japanese culture on the Western imagination, known as japonisme, profoundly affected leading artistic movements of the era, including Impressionism, Aestheticism, and Art Nouveau.

The exhibition explores this extraordinary moment of cross-cultural exchange by presenting about 150 exhibits including paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts in five sections: Taste for Japan; Woman; City Life; Nature; and Landscape. Each of the sections emphasizes visual connections across national borders, demonstrating the many ways that Western artists encountered Japanese art, either directly or through the example of contemporaries who introduced them to Japanese themes and styles, including asymmetry, decorative patterning, and calligraphic gesture.

Masterpieces by European and American artists will be shown along with precious objects and Ukiyo-e paintings and prints from the Museum’s Japanese collection, which is one of the finest in the world – Claude Monet’s La Japonaise, exhibited for the first time after meticulous conservation; Vincent Van Gogh’s celebrated Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle (La Berceuse); and other highlights that rank among the MFA’s most beloved treasures.
The exhibition will be on display at the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Kanayama until May 10th.

“La Japonaise”  (rightLa-Japonaise) by Claude Monet was first shown in Paris during 1876, attracting much attention at a group show of Impressionist painters. In that era large-scale figure paintings were considered to be the most significant challenge for an artist. Using this format, Monet created a virtuoso display of brilliant color that is also a witty comment on the then-current Parisian fad for all things Japanese.

Following Japan’s opening to the west in the 1850’s there was a boom in interest in Japanese art and culture known as Japonisme. Monet was among the many Impressionist painters who admired Japanese art, and especially Japanese woodblock prints.

This painting is a whimsical retort to the trend and features the artist’s wife Camille wrapped in a splendid kimono and surrounded by fans. In the picture Camille, a dark haired woman, wears a blond wig to emphasize her western identity.

The background is decorated with sixteen fans featuring Japanese symbols which Monet used to decorate his walls. In her hand we see a fan which is red white and blue, a nod to the French flag. Further amplifying the Japanese atmosphere is the straw mat on the floor. Such items could then be bought for a few pennies in many shops in Paris. Even the big department stores had special sections for Japanese items.

One of the more vibrant aspects of the painting is the elaborate kimono featuring gold and colorful embroidery. The top portion features the resplendent blonde Camille while the lower portion draws a notable contrast with the somewhat scary Samurai who is about to draw a sword.

Later on Monet would cast aspersions on this picture, perhaps because the humorous nature stands in marked contrast to the majority of his work which is more ethereal and often somewhat poignant.

In fact few if any of Monet’s works surpass the complex poignancy of another of his famous pictures in which Camille is the central figure,  “Le Dernier” (Camille On Her Deathbed) which was painted in 1879 and could not be more different in theme and tone to the light and blithe “La Japonaise”.

This is the first time that this painting has been seen since undergoing an extensive year-long restoration to remove varnish and wax so that the clarity of the work and the vibrancy of the colors can once again be seen.

Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts
1-1-1 Kanayama-cho, Naka-ku, Nagoya
(052) 684-0101

10:00~19:00  Weekdays
10:00~17:00 Sat, Sun and Public Holidays
Closed Mon.
(Closed next business day if Mon is a Holiday)

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