Research: Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo: Hiroshige's Impact on the West

Old Battersea Bridge, Artist: James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903). Old Battersea Bridge, 1879. Lithograph. Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Rembrandt Club, 15.377

With the opening of Japan in 1854, after two hundred years of isolation, Japanese art and culture were introduced to the West, initiating a fascination that began in France and spread throughout Europe and America, continuing into the twentieth century. Japan's participation in world's fairs during this time, and the circulation of Japanese prints and decorative arts, further increased Western interest in Japan.

Ukiyo-e prints were particularly popular with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters and were studied by artists such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gauguin, and James McNeill Whistler. Monet, for example, avidly collected the prints and displayed them in his home. Vincent Van Gogh, who with his brother Theo owned over four hundred examples, also organized exhibitions of Japanese prints. As the West entered a new century, Japanese woodblock prints provided an artistic alternative—in the use of color, perspective, and spatial structure—for presenting changes in society.

Hiroshige and his One Hundred Famous Views of Edo occupy a special place in the Western reception of ukiyo-e. To many artists, prints from this series became important models for their paintings and prints. Individual images were either meticulously copied, as with Van Gogh's oil paintings based on Plum Estate, Kameido and Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake, or were more general sources of inspiration, evident in the adaptation of a particular landscape element or effect. The One Hundred Famous Views of Edo—in its evocation of urban life and the landscape of the city of Edo—complemented the vision of many Western artists of the time who were also concerned with the modern urban experience and its surroundings. After viewing another group of Hiroshige's prints at an exhibition in Paris in 1853, Pissarro wrote in a letter "the Japanese artist Hiroshige is a marvelous Impressionist." James McNeill Whistler was inspired by the Hiroshige prints that he once owned. One need only compare Whistler's etching Old Battersea Bridge, 1879, with Hiroshige's Kyobashi Bridge, 1857, to see how direct that influence was.

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