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Looking East - Vincent van Gogh and Japan

CollectionsANU Student Research Conference (2nd : 2016 : Canberra, ACT)
Title: Looking East - Vincent van Gogh and Japan
Author(s): You, Clive
Keywords: student research conference;Vincent van Gogh;Japan;art history;woodblock prints;painting
Date published: 14-Jul-2016
Publisher: Australian National University
During the formative years of his life in Arles, France, Vincent van Gogh became deeply enamoured with the art of Japan. Although he never saw Japan for himself, in his head he imagined it as an oriental utopia. This vision, while short-lived, was crucial for the eventual flowering of his unique painting style. Therefore, it is vital for us to understand the Japanese aesthetics and philosophy hidden in his paintings. The essay commences with a discussion on the origins of van Gogh’s Japonism interests and then proceeds with an analysis of how this manifested itself in three periods of his “Japanese Era”. The first period is the learning stage for van Gogh. Visually, his paintings are close to the original pieces, but they are not simply the copies as he normally intensified the colours and created additional borders. The second period mainly features the Portrait of Père Tanguy, indicating the Japanese art in his social and spiritual life. The peak was reached around 1888, Self-portrait as bonze is the one which reflects his Japanese preference most obviously, which is further discussed in the third part. The visual analysis technique is widely utilised in this paper to conduct the research of Vincent’s paintings and select the representatives of three periods. A visual analysis addresses an artwork’s formal elements—visual attributes such as color, line, texture, and size. It may also include historical context or interpretations of meaning.


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