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New Approaches To Landscape

Japanese landscapes, with their novel approaches to color, perspective and light, offered compelling possibilities to Western artists already captivated by the idea of a nation attuned to nature and its ever-changing beauty. 

In Looking East, you’ll see selected Japanese and Western landscapes side by side, calling attention to elements of inspiration. The fresh, bright colors and striking contrasts of Japanese prints drew the attention of Western artists seeking alternatives to the darker palette of traditional Western landscapes. Other Japanese motifs that became essential elements of the new Western styles were the repeated trees, trellises and grid-like structures that offered a different way of organizing landscape. The overhead perspective (or “bird’s-eye” view), common in Japanese landscapes, also came into favor among Western artists, who found it especially useful in conveying a personal reaction to a place. 

Bamboo Yards Kyobashi Bridge
Bamboo Yards, Kyobashi Bridge, 1857, by Utagawa Hiroshige I (Japanese, 1797–1858). Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, 11.26350.
The Impressionist Claude Monet derived not only techniques but also a distinct sensibility from his study of Japanese masters. “Their exquisite taste,” Monet wrote in 1909, “has always delighted me, and I like the suggestive quality of their aesthetic, which evokes presence by a shadow and the whole by the part.” 

The water lily pond
The water lily pond, 1900, by Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926). Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Given in memory of Governor Alvan T. Fuller by the Fuller Foundation, 61.959.
Monet kept a collection of more than 200 Japanese prints at Giverny, where he painted his water lily series based on the scenery of his Japanese-style garden. Like other Western artists, he was drawn to Japanese appreciation for the ephemeral nature of the seasons and times of day. He explored this idea, famously painting his water lily pond over and over to capture it in different lights.