Art Through Time: A Global View
Converging Cultures Art: Chi Kan Jo (Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment)
In the mid-nineteenth century, Japan abandoned its Seclusion Policy after some two centuries of limited international contact.
During the Meiji era, which lasted from 1868 to 1912, interaction with the outside world was vigorously promoted. The Meiji government was intent on the modernization of Japan, an agenda that meant both the adoption of new technologies and the acquisition of Western knowledge.
Artistic and cultural exchange between Japan and the West flourished under the Meiji rulers. At the same time, the growing desire to define a national identity meant that artists were self-consciously looking back at traditional Japanese styles and techniques. These two conflicting trends led to the emergence of yōga, Japanese oil on canvas painting in the Western style, and nihonga, or Japanese-style painting.
Like a number of other practitioners of yōga, Seiki Kuroda received his artistic training in Europe, where he studied with French painter Raphael Collin. From Collin, Kuroda learned the art of plein air painting, or painting out-of-doors, and developed an interest in representing the female nude, a perennial motif in Western art and a mainstay of Parisian Salon exhibitions. Although Japanese audiences were quite familiar with erotic prints, the notion that the naked woman, allegorical or otherwise, could be the subject of large-scale formal painting was entirely new to them.
Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment, one of the artist’s most controversial works, was created in 1899, six years after Kuroda had returned to Japan from Paris and shortly after he was named the first professor of Western-style painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. In the triptych, or three-paneled work, Kuroda attempts to meld aspects of Japanese and European art. His three nude figures, justified by the painting’s allegorical title, are rendered with the plasticity and volume typical of French academic painting. Yet, the gold, planar background is reminiscent of the gilded folding screens popular during Japan’s Momoyama Period (1573–1615).
Julie Nelson Davis, Associate Professor of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania
“Clearly the cultural convergences over time have had an impact on artistic innovation. In the case of Western style painting in late nineteenth-century Japan, we have a number of artists who go to Paris to learn new styles. One of these, Kuroda Seiki, studied with a painter named Raphael Collin. Kuroda went and studied with him and he himself learned the techniques of oil painting. He also learned the practices that were typical in studios at the time—of drawing from life, of drawing from plaster models: drawing as being the basis of representation. And he brings that back to Japan and he teaches people in Japan that this is the new mode of Western painting. He exhibits a painting he made in Paris showing a woman standing before a mirror, a painting called Morning Toilette.
In 1895, he displays a painting and the government decides that this is an inappropriate painting for the population to see because it includes a nude figure. He didn’t take that as a moment to say, ‘I’m not going to do it anymore.’ I think he wanted to show the world that Japan was capable of being a modern nation state. And one of the ways to do that was to show that he was as skilled in making a painting as any French artist. And, again, he returned to the nude, a topic that really was outside of a Japanese context, but one in which he’s now using it as a new vehicle for his own expression. In this painting, Wisdom, Impression, and Sentiment, he chose three nude figures, female figures, standing upright. He’s combining a Western subject and a Western three-dimensional rendering practice with this contour line that comes from a Buddhist practice. He then creates the background for these figures using gold paint to suggest something like the background of a gold, traditional gold screen.”
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Kuroda Memorial Hall Web site. http://www.tobunken.go.jp/kuroda/index_e.html.
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