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Japanese art and Asai Chu: the eclipse of ukiyo-e by western style art

Japanese art and Asai Chu: the eclipse of ukiyo-e by western style art

Modern Tokyo Times

Lee Jay Walker

 

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 led to many social convulsions and like all revolutionary periods you had many winners and losers. This applies to individuals who could adapt to the rapid changes in society and the art world was no exception in Japan. Asai Chu (1856-1907) belonged to this changing world. However, in some ways he was lucky because he was young enough to understand these momentous events in Japanese history.

The old world of ukiyo-e would become eclipsed in the lifetime of Asai Chu despite some amazing Meiji ukiyo-e artists. Not surprisingly, Asai Chu became involved in the new wave of Japanese art which was heavily influenced by Western style artists. Of course, it wasn’t all one way because many Western artists like Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Edgar Devas, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others, adored ukiyo-e and Japanese style paintings.

However, the technological developments of photography and other areas meant that ukiyo-e could not compete on a level playing field based on modernization alone. Also, different cultural influences and Japanese artists living abroad meant that new dynamics were at work. This implies that while technological change speeded up the artistic transition, the old order would have been usurped anyway because of cultural interaction and changing thought patterns. Therefore, for individuals like Asai Chu these were exciting times.

Ironically, the Meiji period did witness many fantastic ukiyo-e artists and it is because of these individuals that it managed to cling on for so long. Notable Meiji ukiyo-e artists include Yoshitoshi, Chikanobu, Kobayashi Kiyochika, Ogata Gekko, Kawanabe Kyosai, Toyohara Kunichika, Utagawa Yoshifuji, Mizuno Toshikata, Ginko Adachi, and several others. However, they were swimming “against the tide” despite their collective skills blessing the art world and enriching Japanese art.

Traces of the old world survived in modern Japan through new movements like shin-hanga but this area was limited when compared with the days of Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro, and many other amazing artists, who belonged to the world of ukiyo-e. However, this isn’t to underestimate the shin-hanga movement because it produced many stunning artists like Ito Shinsui, Hiroshi Yoshida, and Kawase Hasui (to name just a few). Also, the bridge of the shin-hanga movement meant that “the shadow” of the old world was ticking but fused with new changes and thinking within this intriguing art form.

Asai Chu blossomed under Kunisawa Shinkuro and he was lucky enough to study under Antonio Fontanesi. The reason why he had this opportunity was because of the Meiji elites who wanted to transport the best of the Western world and fuse this with the best of Japan. Therefore, in the area of science, the arts, law, industrialization, military thinking, commerce, political systems, and so forth, the power of the West became embodied within the psyche of the new Japan. Of course, while new thought patterns emerged, the power of Japanese culture and different thought patterns meant that you had a lot of fusions. Therefore, in certain areas “a new way” emerged based on Japanization.

In an earlier article I stated that “The Meiji government hired Antonio Fontanesi in order that he would introduce oil painting from Europe and clearly Asai Chu learnt much because his passion and sophistication grew. When Asai Chu was in his forties he resigned from being a professor in Tokyo and moved to France for two years. This decision was wise because by studying at an impressionist art school he managed to enhance his artistic skill and techniques.”

“Also, the cultural aspect of studying in France meant that new styles of thinking and artistic creativity would further enrich his rich talents. This decision also shows that Asai Chu was still searching and despite the relative comfort of being a professor in Tokyo he was willing to take risks in order to pursue his love of art.”

The inquisitive nature of Asai Chu and his love of art meant that France would enhance him personally, and in turn he would influence many important Japanese artists when he returned home. This must have pleased the Meiji leaders who were involved in the arts because the younger generation of aspiring artists had an individual to look up. This is based on his stunning art and the rich knowledge that he had obtained in Japan and France.

Therefore, artists like Yasui Sotaro, Suda Kunitaro, Umehara Ryuzaburo, and many others, learnt many things from Asai Chu. On returning to Japan he became a professor at Kyoto College of Arts and Crafts and because of his enthusiasm for art, he was involved in many clubs related to this field. Therefore, just like the dynamic Meiji period it is abundantly clear that Asai Chu was equally creative and vigorous.

In my earlier article about Asai Chu and the role of the Meiji political leadership, I comment that “Meiji political leaders impacted on art in this period and introduced new art forms from outside of Japan. However, at the same time political leaders were concerned about preserving the richness of Japanese art and culture. This minefield wasn’t easy and conservatives and liberals understood what was at stake but for individuals like Asai Chu the issue was “art” and not politics or cultural engineering.”

Ukiyo-e was clearly on “borrowed time” because of the prevailing conditions and artists like Asai Chu re-invigorated Japanese art. The shin-hanga movement meant that the power of ukiyo-e was kept alive for many decades throughout the twentieth century. It matters not that the thought patterns, concepts, and art, were very different because the link is evidently clear for all to see.

However, the world of Asai Chu would impact greatly on Japanese art because so many other fellow nationals were inspired by Western art. However, in truth, each new movement will one day be eclipsed by new concepts, styles, and thinking. Therefore, the diversity of Japanese art is blessed by each special art movement irrespective if the roots began in Japan, China, France, Holland, or wherever.

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Japanese art and Yasui Sotaro: the allure of Paris and uniqueness of Japanese art

Japanese art and Yasui Sotaro: the allure of Paris and uniqueness of Japanese art

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yasui Sotaro (1888-1955) was born in Kyoto and he is famous for yoga (Western-style) portraiture. It is clear that this talented individual understood his vocation because he pursued a career in art despite his family desiring a more commercial career. Therefore, from an early age he was clearly determined and focused and in time he would blossom in the art field.

He was very fortunate to have studied under Asai Chu who sadly died in 1907 when Yasui Sotaro was still a teenager. Asai Chu was a stunning Japanese painter who inspired many artists in Japan. This notably applies to Yasui Sotaro, Suda Kunitaro, Umehara Ryuzaburo, and other artists who were inspired by Asai Chu.

Not surprisingly, Yasui Sotaro also moved to France just like Asai Chu had done during his lifetime. He moved to Paris in 1907 and stayed until 1914 and this period of his life was very beneficial. Indeed, it is clear that Yasui Sotaro was extremely lucky to have studied under Asai Chu in Japan and then under Jean-Paul Laurens at the Academie Julian.

During his stay in Paris he became influenced by the art of Paul Cezanne, Jean-Francois Millet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It is stated that he was especially influenced by Paul Cezanne. Therefore, the fusions of Japanese art and European art along with the rich vibrancy of the Paris art scene, impacted greatly on this talented individual. However, with the outbreak of World War One he had to return to Japan but Paris had clearly inspired him during his stay in France.

Yasui Sotaro, Umehara Ryuuzaburo, Ishii Hakutei, and Fujishima Takeji, had all gained from their experience in France. They also studied in this country in the same timeframe. Indeed, the power of France influenced Ishi Hakutei to introduce the art of Rodin and Renoir to the Tokyo art scene.

The following decade witnessed recurring problems related to the health of Yasui Sotaro but from an art point of view it was a time of further growth. Yasui Sotaro in this period focused on vibrant colors and outlines which were clear. Therefore, you can notice his style within the landscapes and portraits that he produced. Also, traditional Nihonga techniques fused naturally with realism and other thought patterns that he learnt  in France.

Notable art pieces by Yasui Sotaro include Black-haired Woman, Portrait of a Woman,  Early Summer, Autumn at Lake Towada, A Suburb of Kyoto, Girl in New-Year Clothes, Roses, and Chin-Jung.However, throughout his career he produced many stunning pieces of art which have blessed the art world.

 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and culture: Asai Chu and Western style art movement

Japanese art and culture: Asai Chu and Western style art movement

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Asai Chu (1856-1907) was a young boy when the Meiji Restoration of 1868 began and just like this period of Japanese history he also was curious about the outside world. Times were changing rapidly and the familiarity of the Edo period was now being challenged by new forces. Therefore, when Asai Chu was a young adult he felt this new vibrancy and many doors soon opened up for this talented individual.

In 1873 he moved to Tokyo to study English but the pull of art gained further momentum and after enrolling under Kunisawa Shinkuro a new world would unravel for Asai Chu.  At the same time, the Meiji leaders were keen to focus on many aspects of Western nations and this applies to the arts, science, modernization, industrialization, law, and many other important areas. This turned to be a rich blessing for Asai Chu because while studying at the Kobubijutsu Gakko in the mid-1870s he studied under Antonio Fontanesi.

The Meiji government hired Antonio Fontanesi in order that he would introduce oil painting from Europe and clearly Asai Chu learnt much because his passion and sophistication grew. When Asai Chu was in his forties he resigned from being a professor in Tokyo and moved to France for two years. This decision was wise because by studying at an impressionist art school he managed to enhance his artistic skill and techniques.

Also, the cultural aspect of studying in France meant that new styles of thinking and artistic creativity would further enrich his rich talents. This decision also shows that Asai Chu was still searching and despite the relative comfort of being a professor in Tokyo he was willing to take risks in order to pursue his love of art.

He stayed in France for two years and on his return to Japan he became a professor at the Kyoto College of Arts and Crafts. Like before, Asai Chu became involved in various clubs and he founded the Kansai Arts Institute in the early twentieth century. This aspect of Asai Chu blessed the art world in Japan because he influenced many aspiring artists and traditional artists who were firmly established.

In Kansai he taught Yasui Sotaro, Suda Kunitaro, Umehara Ryuzaburo, and many other artists, who were blessed with abundant skills in the field of art. From being born in Sakura in Kanto to moving to Tokyo, France, and Kansai, the same energy was maintained throughout his life. Therefore, Asai Chu influenced many individuals and laid the foundation for many important institutions.

Katrina Neumann comments about the stunning artwork by Asai Chu called “Harvest” that “Asai Chu, one of Japan’s most prominent painters in adhering to the Westernization trend, paints his distinguished painting titled Harvest. This piece is remarkable in the fact that it demonstrates the figures of the painting, from an Asian background, dominating the picture plane and owns the land or is manhandling the land; in a way that is far less harmonious than Eitoku’s Rakuchu Rakugai Zu from 1590 or the struggle that is visible in Hokusai’s The Great Wave of Kanagawa from 1832. The subject is no longer about the figure being congruent with nature, but the figure owning nature within the industrial revolution context and environment.”

Meiji political leaders impacted on art in this period and introduced new art forms from outside of Japan. However, at the same time political leaders were concerned about preserving the richness of Japanese art and culture. This minefield wasn’t easy and conservatives and liberals understood what was at stake but for individuals like Asai Chu the issue was “art” and not politics or cultural engineering.

Asai Chu was “a clear son of the positive aspects of the Meiji spirit.”

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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