Tag Archives: Japonisme

Japonism in Claude Monet’s “On the Boat”

27 Apr

Claude Monet, On the Boat, 1887

Japanese artists regularly used all sorts of unusual perspectives and compositions to enrich the artwork and excite the viewer. In ukiyo-e prints we can often see a figure or an object cut out in a strange way, but our eye instantly fills in the part that is missing, we are instantly engaged and we build the rest of the scene with our imagination. This artistic technique was normal in the art of Far East but was perceived as something most unusual and outrageous in European art circles. German painter Franz von Lenbach in particular expressed his intense dislike of the cut-off technique, he wrote: “The Impressionists – those choppers-off of necks and heads – despise the closed form of the human body which has been taught to us by the Old Masters.” In retrospective it is almost amusing how such a little thing would be so provocative. The train of art was moving fast, vanishing in a cloud of smoke and Franz von Lenbach was still on the train station, completely stuck in the dusty, old and boring art routines. The western art traditions favoured symmetry and harmony and the ideal placement of the object portrayed was the centre of the painting. More conventional nineteenth century painters such as Alexandre Cabanel or Adolphe William Bouguereau followed this traditional composition but the Impressionists, and the art movements that followed, were a rebellious bunch who liked to do things their way and didn’t care about anyone else’s approval or praise.

Mizuno Toshikata, 36 Beauties – Viewing Snow, 1891

One of the most popular cut-off objects in the last nineteenth century and early twentieth century art was the boat and we can find many interesting examples of this in the art of the Impressionists such as Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot, amongst others. A beautiful example of this is Monet’s painting “On the Boat” from 1887. The dreaminess of the painting is almost unbearable, overwhelming to say the least. Gazing at those soft, airy shades of blue feels like gazing at the clouds on a lovely spring day – ethereal. The rich colouration of the water surface and the reflection of the two figures in the water is splendid. The atmosphere is beautifully conveyed. Two ladies seen sitting in the boat in the middle of the river Epte are Suzanne and Blanche, the daughters of Mrs Hoschedé.

They are dressed in white gowns but it seems the colour of the river is reflected on the dresses and vice versa. The boat is cut-off but as you can see, this composition works beautifully because we don’t need to see the whole boat for the scene to be beautiful and also, this cut-off composition may sound harsh and dynamic but it can actually work well in serene scenes such as this one. In a way it almost looks like a dreamy film scene, as if the camera is just capturing the boat slowly gliding down the river. It feels like a moment captured in time, rather than a staged scene. Bellow you can see other examples of cut-off boats which are interesting but not as dreamy; Monet used darker shades of green and blues in those paintings and the white dresses of the girls contrasts more strongly with the colour of the surrounding nature.

Also, I’ve chosen a few examples of cut-off boats in ukiyo-e prints and, as you can see from the dates, some date back to the eighteenth century and some were created even after Monet’s paintings which shows that Monet and the Impressionist bunch were not only inspired by the Japanese art of the past but that both the artists of the West and of the East were creating exciting new artworks at the same time. Scenes of two lovers in a boat and Ariko weeping are particularly lovely to me. These examples all show that an ordinary object such as a boat can be visually exciting if seen and portrayed in a new and different way; it’s all about how something is painted and now what is painted, I feel.

Claude Monet, The Pink Skiff, Boating on the Epte, 1887

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Ariko weeps as her boat drifts in the moonlight, Print 38 from A Hundred Aspects of the Moon, 1886

Claude Monet, In Norway The Boat at Giverny, 1887

Okumura, Masanobu, Two Lovers in a Boat, 1742

Berthe Morisot, Summer’s Day, 1879

Gustav Klimt – Hope I

9 Apr

Gustav Klimt, Hope I, 1903

The redhead vixen staring straight at us from the canvas without a trace of shyness was Herma; Klimt’s favourite model. He apparently said that her ass was more beautiful and more intelligent than the faces of all other models; what a compliment! The story goes that one day Herma didn’t show up at his studio, days passed and she still didn’t show up and Klimt got worried she might be ill so he sent someone to get her. It turned out she didn’t want to come and pose because she was pregnant, but regardless Klimt insisted she must pose for him, despite her condition, and that’s how painting “Hope I” was born. There is also a painting “Hope II” painted in 1907-08 but it is very different stylistically, and I personally love “Hope I” more, especially these days. There is just so many interesting details about it that keep me captivated.

Firstly, there is the subject of a nude woman, Klimt’s preferred motif to paint, but this time the woman is heavily pregnant and we don’t see that often in art. Still, despite her huge stomach, the rest of her seems slender and girlish, just like other women in Klimt’s paintings. With masses of coppery red hair and the wreath of delicate flowers in her hair, she seems more like a bride than like a mother to be. Gazing directly at us, and unashamedly naked, with her ginger pubic hair exposed, she seems like a wild child of nature, a forest nymph, a friend of water lilies, weeping willows and reed. The very elongated format of the painting and the, at least partly ornamental background, were obviously taken from Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. The choice of using a vertical canvas goes hand in hand with the motif of a woman shown standing up.

The space around her, above her and behind her is decorative and undefined; it’s a symbolic setting not a real one. The wave of serene blue colour, adorned with golden dots and blade shaped ornaments, flowing from the woman’s hair to her legs looks like a waterfall. On the left of the woman is a strange, but lovely black creature called the sea monster; it doesn’t look like a scary monster to me, rather it reminds me of that ghost in Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”. Above them we see strange, unsettling faces with grimaces and dead eyes, and also a skull. A very strange motifs considering the painting is called Hope. The eerie heads and skulls reminded me of the way Katsushika Hokusai portrayed his Lantern ghost and Kohada Koheiji’s skull appearing as a ghost at the burning mosquito net before his wife’s lover who murdered him. This painting is filled with unsettling contrasts; the sensuality of the woman’s body contrasts with her future role of a mother, the darkness of the background contrasts with the growing new life.

Katsushika Hokusai, Kohada Koheiji’s skull appears as a ghost at the burning mosquito net before his wife’s love who murdered him, 1830

Katsushika Hokusai, The Lantern Ghost, 1830