Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec
Katsukawa Shun'ei, The Actor Ichikawa Danjūrō V, 1780s, woodblock print. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton R. Harris.

Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec

Seattle Asian Art Museum, Seattle, WA - To Dec 3

by Susan Kunimatsu

While the influence of ukiyo-e woodblock prints on the lithographs of Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries is well documented, this show brings together some 90 masterworks of Edo-period Japan and late-19th-century France in a presentation that sheds new light on the art. Curator Xiaojin Wu delves deeper into the socioeconomic conditions that underlie the aesthetic connections.

In both countries, a prosperous middle class of merchants, artisans and entertainers concentrated in the fast-growing urban centers of Edo, present-day Tokyo, and Paris. But in both cities, the social order remained rigidly defined. Lacking political or social stature, the newly rich embraced a culture of hedonism and transient pleasures. In Edo, this was known as ukiyo, the “floating world.” In Paris, a subversive bohemian culture took root.

Printmaking provided the medium of expression for these renegade cultures. Artists like Kitagawa Utamaro and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec elevated prints from commercial to fine art, while flouting tradition in style and subject matter. They produced scenes of ordinary people partaking in everyday pleasures, and portraits of celebrities and “pleasure women.” A gallery on celebrity culture brings together well-known images of Kabuki actors and French cabaret performers. Women of the “pleasure quarters” are depicted quite differently by the two societies. Geishas are idealized, refined icons of fashion; in contrast, French prostitutes look like the world-weary women they are.

In this show, Japanese works hang in the same galleries as French pieces they influenced, including selections from Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (1830-32) and Henri Rivière’s tribute, Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower (1902). The use of bold color and line, asymmetric compositions, tight cropping, extreme close-ups, silhouettes and reflections are all visual devices French artists adapted from Japanese prints.

Share this: