In Japanese ukiyo-e prints, Western artists found an exciting source of inspiration for depictions of city life. Many were thrilled to discover that the Japanese had engaged seriously with subject matter that some Western critics had dismissed as frivolous and superficial. “These Japanese artists confirm my belief in our vision,” wrote the Impressionist Camille Pissarro after seeing an exhibition of ukiyo-e in 1893. Japanese depictions of entertainment districts, popular actors and the “floating world” offered encouragement to European artists, who had begun to find subject matter in public spectacles (horse racing and parties) and denizens of seedy nightlife (prostitutes and dancers).
Japanese art also offered a range of formal possibilities, including bursts of color, a sharply up-tilted ground plane and bold outlines. Through Looking East, you’ll see how Western artists drew on these techniques to evoke the energy and spectacle of the modern urban experience.