Download Vincent van Gogh’s Collection of 500 Japanese Prints, Which Inspired Him to Create “the Art of the Future”

Vin­cent van Gogh nev­er went to Japan, but he did spend quite a bit of time in Arles, which he con­sid­ered the Japan of France. What made him think of the place that way had to do entire­ly with aes­thet­ics. The Nether­lands-born painter had moved to Paris in 1886, but two years lat­er he set off for the south of France in hopes of find­ing real-life equiv­a­lents of the “clear­ness of the atmos­phere and the gay colour effects” of Japan­ese prints. These days, we’ve all seen at least a few exam­ples of that kind of art and can imag­ine more or less exact­ly what he was talk­ing about. But how did the man who paint­ed Sun­flow­ers and The Star­ry Night come to draw such inspi­ra­tion from what must have felt like such exot­ic art of such dis­tant a prove­nance?

“There was huge admi­ra­tion for all things Japan­ese in the sec­ond half of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry,” says the Van Gogh Muse­um’s visu­al essay on the painter’s rela­tion­ship with Japan. “Very few artists in the Nether­lands stud­ied Japan­ese art. In Paris, by con­trast, it was all the rage. So it was there that Vin­cent dis­cov­ered the impact Ori­en­tal art was hav­ing on the West, when he decid­ed to mod­ernise his own art.”

Hav­ing got a deal on about 660 Japan­ese wood­cuts in the win­ter of 1886–87, appar­ent­ly with an intent to trade them, he ulti­mate­ly held on to them, copied them, and even used their ele­ments as back­grounds for his own por­traits.

“My studio’s quite tol­er­a­ble,” he wrote to his broth­er Theo, “main­ly because I’ve pinned a set of Japan­ese prints on the walls that I find very divert­ing. You know, those lit­tle female fig­ures in gar­dens or on the shore, horse­men, flow­ers, gnarled thorn branch­es.” More than a diver­sion, he saw in their rad­i­cal dif­fer­ence from the rig­or­ous­ly real­is­tic, con­ven­tion-bound tra­di­tion­al Euro­pean paint­ing a way toward “the art of the future,” which he was con­vinced “had to be colour­ful and joy­ous, just like Japan­ese print­mak­ing.” As he devel­oped what he called a “Japan­ese eye” while liv­ing in Arles, “his com­po­si­tions became flat­ter, more intense in colour, with clear lines and dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns.”

The Van Gogh Muse­um has dig­i­tized and made avail­able to down­load Van Gogh’s Japan­ese art col­lec­tion, or at least most of them: you can read about the hun­dred or so “miss­ing” works here, and you can view the 500 the muse­um has retained here. Every time you reload the front page, the selec­tion it presents reshuf­fles; oth­er­wise, you can browse the col­lec­tion by sub­ject, per­son and insti­tu­tion, tech­nique, object type, and style. Some of the best-rep­re­sent­ed cat­e­gories include land­scape, actor print, spring, and female beau­ty. Whether the Japan-inspired Van Gogh (or col­leagues who shared his inter­est, chiefly Paul Gau­guin) suc­ceed­ed in cre­at­ing the art of the future is up to art his­to­ri­ans to debate, but no one who sees his col­lec­tion of Japan­ese art will ever be able to unsee its influ­ence on his own work. Not that Van Gogh did­n’t admit it him­self: “All my work,” he wrote in a lat­er let­ter to Theo, “is based to some extent on Japan­ese art.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Near­ly 1,000 Paint­ings & Draw­ings by Vin­cent van Gogh Now Dig­i­tized and Put Online: View/Download the Col­lec­tion

The Van Gogh of Microsoft Excel: How a Japan­ese Retiree Makes Intri­cate Land­scape Paint­ings with Spread­sheet Soft­ware

Down­load Hun­dreds of Van Gogh Paint­ings, Sketch­es & Let­ters in High Res­o­lu­tion

Simon Schama Presents Van Gogh and the Begin­ning of Mod­ern Art

Enter a Dig­i­tal Archive of 213,000+ Beau­ti­ful Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Richard Y.Lee says:

    Dear Sir,

    Thank you for Your hard effort­ing for Van Gogh’s art life’s traking.I would like to advis­ing a top impor­tant point of Van Gogh’s paint­ing ;

    -.If you check­ing for the WIKIPEDIA ;there is Gogh paint­ing list No.,856/“Landscape with a car­riage and a train…” /1890 year/Pushkin mese­um Moscow(760).
    -.This is a FORGERY only„,since in long times has hang on the Pushkin mese­um wall.

    -.This real ori­gin paint­ing kept own­er is in here S‑korea ; The Van Gogh sent a gift to his best lov­ing friend woman in oriental,this is proven it by
    the Gogh’s sent a let­ter to his younger brother/
    Mr.Theo as their Gogh’s diary recorder.

    The Gogh’s best lov­ing friend woman in oriental…is
    our great big grand­moth­er and next gen­er­a­tion to next generation.…so on it.Our fam­i­lies did­n’t know­ing it what is it and who is the Gogh.… only kept stor­ag­ing it in house.

    But,now is inter­net IT glob­al world, we can be awar­ing it and too tried to con­fir­ma­tion what is it.

    The results ;
    -.Its a only real ori­gin by Gogh paint­ing,
    -.Con­firmed the FORGERY paint­ing in Pushkin meseum,its not only simil­lar fea­tures a FORGERY.….
    -.The Japan­ese exhi­bi­tions entry,the Japan­ese pro­fes­sion­al inspec­tors proven it in exact Gogh’s painting,the wor­thy val­ues are too high­er cost,but the Japan­ese supris­ing it and only has tried to took out of this paint­ing from Korean,so we have too dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions expe­ri­enced and run­ning to Hongkong,Bangkok, least back to Korea.
    -.One time has exhi­bi­tion only for this Gogh pain­ing in Korea/SAMSUNG art meseum,but failed it by the some inter­fer­ence wrong peoples.At that wor­thy val­ues are USD.350M.calls.……

    -.So This paint­ing is in safe­ty our pub­lic bank of korea in relat­ed the all of proven doc­u­ments and nev­er go out side to exhibition,so if have any will­ings then writ­ing me to above men­tioned e.mail address.

    I’m activ­i­ties sell­ing this paint­ing in wide­ly for good inter­est­ing artist.

    This writ­ing is your top important,because I’m a sell­er.

    Thank you,
    Richard Lee.

  • Eric says:

    It is not for sale and noth­ing sim­i­lar is some one tray the will have the most ter­ri­ble time in the lives I will not per­mit more abuse and crim­i­nal action to me .

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