Japanese painting modern history

Japanese painting modern history

Prewar period (1868-1945)

prewar japaneseThe prewar period was marked by the division of art into competing European styles and traditional indigenous styles.

During the Meiji period, Japan underwent a tremendous political and social change in the course of the Europeanization and modernization campaign organized by the Meiji government. Western style painting (Yōga) was officially promoted by the government, who sent promising young artists abroad for studies, and who hired foreign artists to come to Japan to establish an art curriculum at Japanese schools.

However, after an initial burst for western style art, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, and led by art critic Okakura Kakuzo and educator Ernest Fenollosa, there was a revival of appreciation for traditional Japanese styles (Nihonga). In the 1880, western style art was banned from official exhibitions and was severely criticized by critics. Supported by Okakura and Fenollosa, the Nihonga style evolved with influences from the European pre-Raphaelite movement and European romanticism.

The Yōga style painters formed the Meiji Bijutsukai (Meiji Fine Arts Society) to hold its own exhibitions and to promote a renewed interest in western art. In 1907, with the establishment of the Bunten under the aegis of the Ministry of Education, both competing groups found mutual recognition and co-existence, and even began the process towards mutual synthesis.

The Taishō period saw the predominance of Yōga over Nihonga. After long stays in Europe, many artists (including Arishima Ikuma) returned to Japan under reign of Yoshihito, bringing with them the techniques of impressionism and early post-impressionism. The works of Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne and Pierre Auguste Renoir influenced early Taishō period paintings. However, yōga artists in the Taishō period also tended towards eclecticism, and there was a profusion of dissident artistic movements. These included the Fusain Society (Fyuzankai) which emphasized styles of post-impressionism, especially fauvism. In 1914, the Nikakai (Second Division Society) emerged to oppose the government-sponsored Bunten Exihibition.

Japanese painting during the Taishō period was only mildly influenced by other contemporary European movements, such as neoclassicism and late post-impressionism.

However, interestingly it was resurgent Nihonga, towards mid-1920s, which adopted certain trends from post-impressionism. The second generation of Nihonga artists formed the Japan Fine Arts Academy (Nihon Bijutsuin) to compete against the government-sponsored Bunten, and although yamato-e traditions remained strong, the increasing use of western perspective, and western concepts of space and light began to blur the distinction between Nihonga and yōga.

Japanese painting in the prewar Shōwa period was largely dominated by Yasui Sotaro and Umehara Ryuzaburo, who introduced the concepts of pure art and abstract painting to the Nihonga tradition, and thus created a more interpretative version of that genre. This trend was further developed by Leonard Foujita and the Nika Society, to encompass surrealism. To promote these trends, the Independent Art Association (Dokuritsu Bijutsu Kyokai) was formed in 1931.

During the World War II, government controls and censorship meant that only patriotic themes could be expressed. Many artists were recruited into the government propaganda effort, and critical non-emotional review of their works is only just beginning.

Important artists in the prewar period include:

  • Harada Naojiro (1863-1899)
  • Yamamoto Hosui (1850-1906)
  • Asai Chu (1856-1907)
  • Kano Hogai (1828-1888)
  • Hashimoto Gaho (1835-1908)
  • Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924)
  • Wada Eisaku (1874-1959)
  • Okada Saburosuke (1869-1939)
  • Sakamoto Hanjiro (1882-1962)
  • Aoki Shigeru (1882-1911)
  • Fujishima Takeji (1867-1943)
  • Yokoyama Taikan 1868-1958
  • Hishida Shunso 1874-1911
  • Kawai Gyokudo 1873-1957
  • Uemura Shōen (1875-1949)
  • Maeda Seison 1885-1977
  • Shimomura Kanzan 1873-1930
  • Takeuchi Seiho 1864-1942
  • Tomioka Tessai 1837-1924
  • Uemura Shoen 1875-1949
  • Shimomura Kanzan (1873-1930)
  • Hishida Shunso (1874-1911)
  • Imamura Shiro (1880-1916)
  • Tomita Keisen (1879-1936)
  • Koide Narashige (1887-1931)
  • Kishida Ryusei (1891-1929)
  • Yorozu Tetsugoro (1885-1927)
  • Hayami Gyoshu (1894-1935)
  • Kawabata Ryushi (1885-1966)
  • Tsuchida Hakusen (1887-1936)
  • Murakami Kagaku (1888-1939)
  • Yasui Sotaro (1881-1955)
  • Sanzo Wada (1883-1967)
  • Umehara Ryuzaburo (1888-1986)
  • Yasuda Yukihiko (1884-1978)
  • Kobayashi Kokei (1883-1957)
  • Leonard Foujita (1886-1968)
  • Yuzo Saeki (1898-1928)
  • Itō Shinsui 1898-1972
  • Kaburaki Kiyokata 1878-1972
  • Takehisa Yumeji 1884-1934

Postwar period (1945-present)

postwar japaneseIn the postwar period, the government-sponsored Japan Art Academy (Nihon Geijutsuin) was formed in 1947, containing both nihonga and yōga divisions. Government sponsorship of art exhibitions has ended, but has been replaced by private exhibitions, such as the Nitten, on an even larger scale. Although the Nitten was initially the exhibition of the Japan Art Academy, since 1958 it has been run by a separate private corporation. Participation in the Nitten has become almost a prerequisite for nomination to the Japan Art Academy, which in itself is almost an unofficial prerequisite for nomination to the Order of Culture.

The arts of the Edo and prewar periods (1603-1945) was supported by merchants and urban people. Counter to the Edo and prewar periods, arts of the postwar period became popular. After World War II, painters, calligraphers, andprintmakers flourished in the big cities, particularly Tokyo, and became preoccupied with the mechanisms of urban life, reflected in the flickering lights, neon colors, and frenetic pace of their abstractions. All the “isms” of the New York-Paris art world were fervently embraced. After the abstractions of the 1960s, the 1970s saw a return to realism strongly flavored by the “op” and “pop” art movements, embodied in the 1980s in the explosive works of Ushio Shinohara. Many such outstanding avant-garde artists worked both in Japan and abroad, winning international prizes. These artists felt that there was “nothing Japanese” about their works, and indeed they belonged to the international school. By the late 1970s, the search for Japanese qualities and a national style caused many artists to reevaluate their artistic ideology and turn away from what some felt were the empty formulas of the West. Contemporary paintings within the modern idiom began to make conscious use of traditional Japanese art forms, devices, and ideologies. A number of mono-ha artists turned to painting to recapture traditional nuances in spatial arrangements, color harmonies, and lyricism.

Japanese-style painting (nihonga) continues in a prewar fashion, updating traditional expressions while retaining their intrinsic character. Some artists within this style still paint on silk or paper with traditional colors and ink, while others used new materials, such as acrylics.

Many of the older schools of art, most notably those of the Edo and prewar periods, were still practiced. For example, the decorative naturalism of the rimpa school, characterized by brilliant, pure colors and bleeding washes, was reflected in the work of many artists of the postwar period in the 1980s art of Hikosaka Naoyoshi. The realism of Maruyama Ōkyo’s school and the calligraphic and spontaneous Japanese style of the gentlemen-scholars were both widely practiced in the 1980s. Sometimes all of these schools, as well as older ones, such as the Kano school ink traditions, were drawn on by contemporary artists in the Japanese style and in the modern idiom. Many Japanese-style painters were honored with awards and prizes as a result of renewed popular demand for Japanese-style art beginning in the 1970s. More and more, the international modern painters also drew on the Japanese schools as they turned away from Western styles in the 1980s. The tendency had been to synthesize East and West. Some artists had already leapt the gap between the two, as did the outstanding painter Shinoda Toko. Her bold sumi ink abstractions were inspired by traditional calligraphy but realized as lyrical expressions of modern abstraction.

There are also a number of contemporary painters in Japan whose work is largely inspired by anime sub-cultures and other aspects of popular and youth culture. Takashi Murakami is perhaps among the most famous and popular of these, along with and the other artists in his Kaikai Kiki studio collective. His work centers on expressing issues and concerns of postwar Japanese society through what are usually seemingly innocuous forms. He draws heavily from anime and related styles, but produces paintings and sculptures in media more traditionally associated with fine arts, intentionally blurring the lines between commercial and popular art and fine arts.

Important artists in the postwar period include:

  • Ogura Yuki (1895-2000)
  • Uemura Shoko 1902-2001
  • Koiso Ryouhei (1903-1988)
  • Kaii Higashiyama (1908-1999)

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