Gauguin and Van Gogh: their shared love of Japan revealed

Gauguin and Van Gogh: their shared love of Japan revealed


Gauguin’s copy of Utagawa Kunisada, A Courtesan, from the collection “Evening Cherry Blossoms within the Pleasure Quarter” (1858)
Courtesy of Courtauld, London

Gauguin’s misplaced manuscript Avant et Après, acquired by London’s Courtauld Gallery and unveiled final week, contains three Japanese prints of “stunning ladies” pasted onto the endpapers. All have now been recognized as by Utagawa Kunisada, one in all Japan’s most vital printmakers.

Intriguingly, Kunisada was Van Gogh’s favorite non-European artist: of the 549 surviving Japanese prints he as soon as owned, almost half are by him. So might Gauguin have acquired his three Kunisadas from Van Gogh?

The three Japanese prints in Avant et Après (Earlier than and After) had been clearly extraordinarily vital for Gauguin, since he prominently positioned them in a manuscript which represented his memoirs and inventive beliefs, compiled simply two months earlier than his loss of life within the Marquesas Islands in 1903.

The prints needed to be trimmed barely to make them match the pocket book and they’re badly light. Because the manuscript was accomplished they’ve been protected, so injury from mild publicity would nearly definitely have occurred earlier than 1903. This implies that the prints had been among the many photos which Gauguin pinned on the partitions of his Polynesian huts, the place they presumably suffered from the tropical solar.

Throughout the previous few weeks an vital discovery has been made: all three prints are by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), also called Utagawa Toyokuni III. Extremely prolific, in his personal day he was as well-known in Japan as Hokusai and Hiroshige. Two of the prints had been recognized as Kunisadas by the Courtauld curator Ketty Gottardo and her colleagues and the third by the Japanese scholar Shigeru Oikawa.


A well-preserved copy of Utagawa Kunisada’s A Courtesan, from the collection “Evening Cherry Blossoms within the Pleasure Quarter” (1858)
Courtesy of 5 Schools and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium, Massachusetts. Reward of William Inexperienced

The print on the entrance of the manuscript, of a geisha by a lantern, is called A Courtesan, from the collection “Evening Cherry Blossoms within the Pleasure Quarter” (1858). A duplicate of the print in one other assortment, in recent situation, emphasises the intense fading suffered by Gauguin’s model.

Two prints are pasted in the back of the manuscript. Summer season Airing of Kimono (1854) reveals an elegantly dressed lady in an inside. Kabuki Actor Kataoka Ainosuke III within the position of Karaito (1857) depicts a lady (performed by a male actor) holding the bow for a musical instrument. Gauguin would presumably have been unaware that it was a male actor, wrongly seeing the character as a “stunning lady” (Bijin-ga, in Japanese).


Left: Gauguin’s copy of Utagawa Kunisada’s Summer season Airing of Kimono (1854) and proper: his copy of Kunisada’s Kabuki Actor Kataoka Ainosuke III within the position of Karaito (1857)
Courtesy of Courtauld, London

Daria Melnikova, a researcher on the Sainsbury Institute for the Research of Japanese Arts and Cultures (College of East Anglia), additionally independently recognized the prints. She sees hyperlinks with Gauguin’s work: “Kunisada’s graphic conventions supplied a supply for increasing Gauguin’s inventive language.” Melnikova believes that Summer season Airing of Kimono might have influenced the pose of the primary lady in Gauguin’s Tahitian portray The Siesta (1892-94, Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, New York). This doable hyperlink is intriguing, though maybe barely tenuous.


Gauguin’s The Siesta (1992-94)
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, New York. The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Assortment, Reward of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1993, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002

Gauguin’s colleague Van Gogh had an enormously better assortment of Kunisada’s work—over 250 of his 549 surviving Japanese prints. One even featured in Van Gogh’s personal work. Within the two variations of Portrait of Père Tanguy (1887, Musée Rodin, Paris and Niarchos assortment), which have Japanese prints within the background, the top of a lady on the left aspect within the centre is Kunisada’s Actor Iwai Kumesaburō (III) within the Position of the Courtesan Takao of the Miura Home (1861).


Van Goghs’s copy of Utagawa Kunisada’s Actor Iwai Kumesaburō (III) within the Position of the Courtesan Takao of the Miura Home (1861)
Courtesy of Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Basis)

Van Gogh’s surviving Japanese prints had been almost all acquired from the Paris-based seller Siegfried Bing within the winter of 1886-87. Vincent later wrote to his brother Theo concerning the buy: “There’s an attic at Bing’s, and in it there’s a heap of ten thousand Japanese prints, landscapes, figures.”

Chris Uhlenbeck, a Dutch specialist who has studied Van Gogh’s prints, says that he purchased a whole bunch to promote to “clientele visiting the leisure district of Montmartre”. Not with the ability to market his personal work, Van Gogh thought he may be capable of earn money from the prints. This enterprise ended up failing dismally, and he ended up giving some to his artist pal Emile Bernard. Equally, Van Gogh may properly have given prints to Gauguin after they met in late 1887 in Paris.

In September 1888, just a few weeks earlier than Gauguin arrived to remain in with Vincent within the Yellow Home, Theo despatched a package deal of Japanese prints to Arles. The 2 artists would definitely have intently studied the prints collectively and it’s fairly doable that Van Gogh may then have given some to Gauguin.

Oikawa agrees that it’s “seemingly” that the three prints in Avant et Après got to Gauguin by Van Gogh in 1888. Gauguin and Van Gogh might properly not have recognized Kunisada’s title, “however they in all probability recognized the prints of gorgeous ladies to be by the identical artist”.

The brand new principle that a few of Gauguin’s Japanese prints got here from Van Gogh throws recent mild on their relationship. Within the textual content of Avant et Après Gauguin claims to have been a key affect on the event of Van Gogh’s extraordinary work in Provence. However the prints on the endpapers of the manuscript inform one other story—that Gauguin’s love of Japanese artwork got here partly from Van Gogh. It was an inventive relationship of equals, to which they each contributed.

In Gauguin’s ultimate years, within the Marquesas, Japanese prints continued encourage his artwork, as they’d Van Gogh. As Gauguin watched the dawn from his distant Pacific island dwelling, he should have generally have dreamed of Japan, 10,000km over the ocean.

Martin Bailey is a number one Van Gogh specialist and investigative reporter for The Artwork Newspaper. Bailey has curated Van Gogh exhibitions on the Barbican Artwork Gallery and Compton Verney/Nationwide Gallery of Scotland. He was a co-curator of Tate Britain’s The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain (27 March-11 August 2019). He has written quite a lot of bestselling books, together with The Sunflowers Are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece (Frances Lincoln 2013, accessible within the UK and US), Studio of the South: Van Gogh in Provence (Frances Lincoln 2016, accessible within the UK and US) and Starry Evening: Van Gogh on the Asylum (White Lion Publishing 2018, accessible within the UK and US). His newest e book is Residing with Vincent van Gogh: The Houses & Landscapes that Formed the Artist (White Lion Publishing 2019, accessible within the UK and US).

• To contact Martin Bailey, please electronic mail: vangogh@theartnewspaper.com

Learn extra from Martin’s Adventures with Van Gogh weblog right here.

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