The work of the French Impressionists of the late 19th century were highly influenced by the Japanese art that was being produced at that time. When Japan's ports were opened for trade in the 1850's, artwork and almost anything from that exotic place became highly fashionable and sought after. Imported woodblock prints became as common as newspapers in Europe. Shopkeepers were actually using prints to pack meat in!! However, Impressionist artists such as Monet, Degas, and Whistler, admired the unique artistry of these prints and would encorporate the techniques into their own paintings.


Kyo-Bashi Bridge and Take-Gashi

Ando Hiroshige; c.1857


Nocturne in Blue and Gold

James Abbott McNeill Whistler; c.1872

    The methods of composition were unlike anything seen before by European artists. The traditional method was to distinguish a single point of focus. The Japanese artists prefered to invite the viewer's eyes to roam over the entire picture by using uniform flat colors, dramatic overlapping objects and bold cut off points. These techniques would give the pictures a sense of depth and the evoke a sense of motion to the viewers.


Cartwheel at the Seashore

Ando Hiroshige; c.1857

Race Course

Edgar Degas 1857


       The woodblock prints were known as Ukiyo-E, which means "Images of the Floating World." Before printmaking techniques were developed and mastered in Japan, artwork was very expensive and only the richest landowners could afford to decorate their houses. Prints, on the other hand were relatively inexpensive to make and were much more accessible to everyone. Because of this, the subject was meant to appeal to the common person. As opposed to showing pictures of royalty, and hisotric battle scenes like before, Ukiyo-E was focused on showing the beauty of nature, people involved in simple, understated activities, or popular actors from the theater. The impressionists realized that simple scenes like these could still be very meaningful. For example, a scene depicting someone lying in a field, with that certain someone's favorite pet snoozing by their side while they read a book can successfully convey that subject's intelligent mind and warm heart to the audience.


Rocks at Bo-No-Ura

Ando Hiroshige; c.1853

Rocks at Belle-Ile

Claude Monet; c. 1886

       Impressionists would write letters to each other, raving about the exhibitions of Ukiyo-E that they had recently attended. They talk about Japanese art from their time, the way that we talk about Manga and Anime, an earlier generation of Otaku fan-artists...

              ...Instead of a Miyazaki Mailing List, they would have probably had a Hiroshige Mailing List...

                       ...or something like that...

back to Paintings index

All text and artwork, unless otherwise specified, by Griffin Waldau. Updated December 20, 2000.