Van Gogh created his own image of Japan by studying and reading about Japanese art, collecting and copying prints, and discussing their aesthetic qualities with other artists. His encounter with Japanese prints helped him to give his work a new direction.
Japanese printmaking was one of Vincent’s main sources of inspiration and he became an enthusiastic collector. The prints acted as a catalyst: they taught him a new way of looking at the world.
Japanese artists often left the middle ground of their compositions empty, while objects in the foreground were sometimes enlarged. They regularly excluded the horizon too, or abruptly cropped the elements of the picture at the edge.
Western artists learned from all this that they did not always have to arrange their artworks in the traditional way, from close up to far away as if in a peep show.
Vincent adopted these Japanese visual inventions in his own work. He liked the unusual spatial effects, the expanses of strong colour, the everyday objects and the attention to details from nature. And, of course, the exotic and joyful atmosphere.
Vincent did more than simply copy Japanese prints. He was influenced in part by his artist friend Émile Bernard, who developed new ideas about the direction of modern art. Taking Japanese prints as his example, Bernard stylised his own paintings. He used large areas of simple colours and bold outlines.
Inspired by Bernard, Vincent began to suppress the illusion of depth in favour of a flat surface. He combined this pursuit of flatness, however, with his characteristic swirling brushwork.
After two years, Vincent left the bustle of Paris behind. He set off for Arles in the South of France in February 1888. In addition to peace, he hoped to find the ‘clearness of the atmosphere and the gay colour effects’ of Oriental prints.
He wrote to his friend Gauguin, who was also very taken with Japanese examples, that he had looked through the train window to see ‘if it was like Japan yet! Childish, isn’t it?’
Vincent, like Gauguin, believed that artists should move to more southern, primitive regions, in search of vibrant colours. This would help them take art to a new stage. It was with that idea in mind that he moved to Arles.
Vincent hoped to found an artists’ community in Arles along the lines of Japanese Buddhist monks, who lived in similar groups.
Sadly, Vincent and Gauguin disagreed too often and Gauguin returned to Paris after a few months. Vincent was beginning to show the first signs of mental illness. He was admitted to hospital and later to a psychological clinic, and he lost faith in his own ability.
Helping develop the art of the future was too ambitious a goal. Vincent referred less and less frequently in his letters to Japanese printmaking.
Nature was the point of departure for Vincent’s art throughout his life. It was the same for Japanese artists, and he recognised that. At the same time, Japanese prints gave him the example he needed to modernise.
Vincent was keen to respond to the call for a modern, more primitive kind of painting. Japanese prints, with their expanses of colour and their stylisation, showed him the way, without requiring him to give up nature as his starting point. It was ideal.
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum has the largest Van Gogh collection in the world It comprises 200 paintings, 400 drawings, and 700 letters by Vincent van Gogh.The Van Gogh Museum is a museum dedicated to the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, on the Paulus Potterstraat and the Museumplein in Amsterdam, in the Zuid district. The collection of the museum contains more than two hundred paintings, five hundred drawings and seven hundred letters from Vincent van Gogh, as well as his collection of Japanese prints, and the library comprises more than 23,000 works.
The museum is situated at the Museumplein in Amsterdam-Zuid, on the Paulus Potterstraat 7, between the Stedelijk Museum and the Rijksmuseum The museum consists of two buildings, the Rietveld building, designed by Gerrit Rietveld, and the Kurokawa wing, designed by Kisho Kurokawa The museum offices are housed on Stadhouderskade 55 in Amsterdam-Zuid.
The Rietveld building is the main structure of the museum and exhibits the permanent collection The building has a rectangular floor plan and is four stories high On the ground floor are a shop, a café, and the introductory part of the art exhibition The first floor shows the works of Van Gogh grouped chronologically The second floor gives information about the restoration of paintings and has a space for minor temporary exhibitions The third floor shows paintings of Van Gogh’s contemporaries in relationship to the work of Van Gogh himself.