• gerard van weyenbergh

Do you know Japanese prints?

Japanese painting, which appeared at the end of the 17th century and flourished until the end of the 19th century, influenced Western artists, particularly through the prints of three masters of drawing, Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Katsushika Hokusai, the drawing madman


Father of manga, a word meaning “spontaneous sketch”, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) embodies Japanese spirituality. He left 30,000 drawings. The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series of prints (1831) is made up of different artistic perspectives on the mythical Japanese volcano. Hokusai was 71 when he designed The Great Wave off Kanagawa , considered today as a true masterpiece and abundantly reproduced. By seizing the moment when the wave is about to take everything in its path, the artist underlines the fragility of existence.

© Metropolitan Museum - Hokusai,


Utagawa Hiroshige, traveling painter


Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) is known for his landscapes of the Fifty-three Tōkaidō Stations, produced in 1833 and 1834, after his first trip on the Tōkaidō Road from Edo (present-day Tokyo) to the imperial capital, Kyoto. Like Utamaro and Hokusai, he will influence Western artists, in particular the American James Whistler (1834-1903), the landscape painter par excellence.



Kitagawa Utamaro, the painter of green houses

The art of portraiture is brought to its peak by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). By painting the faces in close-up, the artist seeks to make his portraits of geishas (courtesans) as similar as possible. His most famous works are the illustrations for The Almanac of Green Houses by Japanese writer Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831) which appeared in 1804. Utamaro takes brothel geishas as his model. The painter's talent is expressed in the treatment of the female hair of these prostitutes and, in particular, in the use of a very intense black. In 1804, Utamaro was jailed and handcuffed for 50 days for writing Woman and the Five Concubines by Hideyoshi which describes the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), one of the great warlords of Japan. A shogun (general) of the time saw in it a criticism of his own dissolute life.

© Connaissance des arts.