The Japanese Painting: History And Schools

Japanese painting is one of the oldest and most highly refined of the Japanese arts, encompassing a wide variety of genre and styles. As with the history of Japanese arts in general, the history of Japanese painting is a long history of synthesis and competition between native Japanese aesthetics, Chinese and Western.

The art of Japanese painting is full of mesmerizing Asian charm when you look at it from a purely decorative view. But it is also a subject that can be a bit confusing for novices when you want to learn more about it. Different painting schools and styles, a variety of different media, the deep roots in Zen Buddhism and the use of specific terms from the Japanese language make this art form not always easily accessible for Westerners.

Yosa Buson (1716 - 1783)

History of Japanese Painting

As nearly all forms of art, early painting had been under the influence of the Chinese culture. By and by, new and specifically Japanese styles were developed and painting schools were established. Each school practized their own style. But the Chinese influence remained strong until the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1867).

Ikeno Taiga (1723–1776) Tani Bunchō (1763 - 1840)


















Ikeno Taiga (1723–1776) & Tani Bunchō (1763 - 1840)

After the opening of Japan to the West under the Meiji period (1868-1912), the early years were marked by an exaggerated embracing of Western art. The newly founded universities established departments for Western art, called Western academic artists into the country as teachers and sent out students to study art in Europe - mainly in France and Italy.

Hand in hand with a rising nationalism, the pendulum soon went back into the other direction. The public opinion began to recognize the richness of the old tradition and even condemned Western art.

The twentieth century was marked by cooperation. Art colleges offer departments for both Japanese and Western painting styles. After World War II, painters, calligraphers and printmakers flourished in the big cities, particularly Tokyo, and became preoccupied with the mechanisms of urban life, reflected in the flickering lights, neon colors, and frenetic pace of their abstractions. All the "isms" of the New York-Paris art world were fervently embraced. After the abstractions of the 1960s, the 1970s saw a return to realism strongly flavored by the "op" and "pop" art movements, embodied in the 1980s in the explosive works of Kano Hogai(1828-1888) Shinohara Ushio. Many such outstanding avant-garde artists worked both in Japan and abroad, winning international prizes. These artists felt that there was "nothing Japanese" about their works, and indeed they belonged to the international school. By the late 1970s, the search for Japanese qualities and a national style caused many artists to reevaluate their artistic ideology and turn away from what some felt were the empty formulas of the West. Contemporary paintings within the modern idiom began to make conscious use of traditional Japanese art forms, devices, and ideologies. A number of mono-ha artists turned to painting to recapture traditional nuances in spatial arrangements, color harmonies, and lyricism.




Kano Hogai(1828-1888)

Japanese Painting Schools and Styles

Suibokuga is the term for painting in black ink. It was adopted from China and strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism. During the 15th century ink painting gained a more Japanese style of its own.

Kano Masanobu (1453-1490) and his son Kano Motonobu (1476-1559) established the Kano painting school. It began as a protest against the Chinese ink painting technique in black. The Kano school used bright colors and introduced daring compositions with large flat areas that later should dominate the ukiyo-e designs. The Kano school split into several branches over the time, but remained dominant during the Edo period. Many ukiyo-e artists were trained as Kano painters.

Hishida Shunsō (1874 - 1911) Hishida Shunsō (1874 - 1911) Hishida Shunsō (1874 - 1911)

Hishida Shunsō (1874 - 1911)

Tosa-ha was a painting school specialized on small miniature formats in book illustrations. The founder was Tosa Yukihiro in the 14th century. The Tosa school became something like the official art school of the imperial court in Kyoto. The imperial court was a secluded world of its own, politically powerless, but well equipped with funds by the governing shoguns to dedicate themselves to fine arts.


Kuroda Seiki (1866 - 1924)

Uemura Shoen (1875-1949)
The nanga painting style was strong at the beginning of the 19th century during the bunka and bunsai era. The advocates of this style painted idealized landscapes and natural subjects like birds and flowers for a cultural elite. The style was rather Chinese.

The shijo school was a split in the 18th century from the official Kano school. The shijo style is characterized by subjects taken from people's everyday life. A kind of realism with sometimes satirical elements



Uemura Shoen (1875-1949)


Source: Japanese Painting History and Schools and Japanese Painting

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