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Japanese Influence on van Gogh's Art

Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) produced his world-renowned art in just a ten-year period. His influence on 20th Century art is considerable, but the formative influences on his own art are also greatly significant in terms of his development as an artist. Van Gogh came to art late in his life. Moving from Holland to Antwerp in 1885, he studied for several months at the Academy, but he was too much a non-conformist for the rigid Academy environment and moved to Paris in 1886 to join his brother Theo. Considered a post-Impressionist, he discovered the work of the Impressionists in Paris, and their influence lightened his dark palette, brush stroke and subject matter. In his search for a new art of color and design, van Gogh was also greatly influenced by Japanese art, particularly his discovery of the Japanese woodcuts with their simple, elegant lines. This paper will discuss the Japanese influence on van Gogh's art.

As art historian Frederick Hartt writes, the earliest drawings and somber colored paintings of van Gogh were influenced by his association with Belgian miners and the peasants of Northern Holland. When he moved to Paris in 1886 to live with his brother Theo, he "came under the joint influences of Impressionism and Japanese prints;" these two influences "freed his palette" permitting him to work "out a fresh, new sense of pattern in contour" (Hartt 380).

When Japan opened its country and ports up to Western commercial interests, Japanese prints, porcelains and lacquerware became known in Europe for the first time. European artists, including van Gogh, were excited by the "bold, pure color, assertive outlines, and cropped compositions of Japanese prints." Japanese art created an indelible impression on van Gogh (who wrote) "We like Japanese painting, we are influenced by itùall Impressionists have that in common" (Van Gogh Museum: Japonism).

Van Gogh saw his first few Japanese prints in Antwerp before movi...

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