While subject matter, representation, and aesthetic choice, uniquely Japanese,

While the term Japonisme is well
known, and the influence of Japan on western art is well documented, the same
cannot quite be said for the influences of the West on the world of Japanese
Art. This paper will look at that influence, and the resulting style and
movement dubbed Y?ga. First looking at what separates Y?ga from not only western
painting, but traditional Japanese art, thus setting up the definition of the
term. From that, will come a brief overview of the history of Y?ga in japan,
from its beginning following through until the end of it as a term and
movement. Finally, a few significant artists and works will be examined, giving
brief descriptions of their contributions to the movement and which paintings
helped influenced it. All of this seeks to give the reader a decent overview
and look at the movement, to better facilitate interest in this obscure section
of Japanese art.

First to look at what makes up Y?ga as well as what separates it from
western oil painting into something truly unique. Starting initially as the
adoption of western techniques of Oil on Canvas, Y?ga didn’t see widespread
appeal until the late 19th century. With the opening of Japan to the
rest of the world, Y?ga
had to compete against western paintings for prominence on the global stage. As
Bert Winther-Tamaki points out that artists sought to produce “Japanese oil
painting that would perform well in Paris.”1 To do this the Japanese Artists had to take European and American
techniques and perfect them, while at the same time keeping their subject
matter, representation, and aesthetic choice, uniquely Japanese, while still
catering to these foreign tastes. Such a task was quite difficult, with many
detractors pointing out such a contradictory nature, of Japanese art having to
cater to non-Japanese.

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 In this Y?ga is the answer to Japan’s
exposure to a global world. It is taking the traditional picture of fine art at
the time, and adapting and synthesizing it with Japanese sensibilities and
aesthetics. It is through this process that Y?ga becomes the transfer of East
and West, much like the European adaption of Japanese design choices as a
result of Japonisme. Y?ga also sought to display the use of new materials, the
oil based pigments so very popular in Europe and the Americas at the time. With
these pigments, the Y?ga artists were not only able to display the world in
more lifelike renditions, but to better translate the feelings and character of
the artist through their strokes, use of color, as well as application of the
material. These new methods of expression would help distance Y?ga away from
Western Oil painting by displaying the unique perspectives of the Japanese
Artist looking at Western techniques. Along with that, Y?ga was fundamentally a
study and celebration of the flesh, as the artists of the movement viewed Y?ga
in its most base state as the “Rendering of the human body.”2
With this as their base, the Y?ga artists would view the entire world through
the realms of the flesh, even when it came to other scenes such as still-life
and landscape painting, treating the forms that they saw as one would treat the
human body.

In fact, the aspect of embodiment was
fairly important part of Y?ga, whether it be the embodiment of the subject in
paint, or the embodiment of the artist in his work, this idea of embodiment is
a reoccurring theme, as Winther-Tamaki outlines, there are four major aspects
of embodiment that Y?ga focuses on.

“(1) the materiality of oil paint pigments on the
picture surface, (2) the illustration of the human body, (3) the imagined
somatic presence of the artist in the painting, and (4) rhetorical metaphors of
political and social incorporation.”3

By using
these themes of embodiment and their interplay into the movement, it develops a
rather unique visual language from traditional western views on Oil Painting.

            By taking these western tools and
bringing in unique Japanese concepts and ideas, we can see the base definition
of the Y?ga movement, and its unique perspective. By no means is this
definition absolute, as with any art movement there are outliers and
exceptions, but for simplicity’s sake we will follow works that seek to embrace
Western technique, with Japanese aesthetics and the idea of embodiment.

Now, the
history of Y?ga while rather short, from roughly the 1830’s up until the
1950’s, its roots stretch back to the time of the Jesuit missionaries, who
taught Japanese converts to paint depictions of the saints. However, with the
rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate and Japan’s isolation, the Jesuits were soon
eliminated with various government backed pogroms thus ending the art until the
mid 18th century.

            During this time Y?ga was referred
to as Akita Ranga, or Dutch-style painting, due to the fact that the
Netherlands was the only Western Nation that Japan was allowed trade with.
While short lived this Movement set down the basis for the Y?ga artists, the
paintings of these Ranga artists laying the foundations for further adaption of
western techniques at the end of the Edo Period, and the laws keeping Japan
closed off from the rest of the world.

            Following the end of the Edo Period,
Japan sought modernization, and through this was adapting many Western
inventions and ideas, the realms of anatomy, medicine, technology and even art
all being brought over in droves, along with foreign artists and teachers to
facilitate the spread of new ideas. The main facilitator of the spread of
Western artistic techniques in this period would be the Technical Art School,
or the Kobu Bijutsu Gakko. Through the hiring of Italian artists to teach at
it, the school sought to impart western techniques of architecture, sculpture,
and painting. However, the school was closed due to Nationalistic
complaints of over westernization. Though this was not the end of the movement
as Yamanashi outlines that Eleven students had left the school to found a small
Association to further their skills.4

            Despite this downturn in opinion
against Y?ga painting, the Meiji government would formally back it not ten
years later, seeking to present itself as civilized to the Eurocentric world of
the late 19th century.  With
this backing Y?ga now saw a boom in popularity, outstripping more traditional
means of art, the Y?ga division of the Japanese salon seeing “4,458 entries,
which was over twice the number received by the Ninhonga (Japanese Painting)
division.”5 With this
massive boost of popularity Y?ga would see a small renaissance in the prewar
years, with differing movements sprouting out of it, though none of them lasted
for too long or gained much notoriety that they could outstrip the mainline
traditions and ideas of Y?ga.

            As Japan turned towards colonizing
the pacific and east asia, with wars in Korea and Manchuria, Y?ga played an
important tool in the Japanese perception of this empire building. Having
always faced a stigma of not being ‘Japanese enough’ Y?ga painters sought to
embroil themselves in Nationalist endeavors and thought, Y?ga formally becoming
the tool of Japanese Propaganda and wartime painting. Kaneko outlines just how
great this need for the Y?ga painters to be seen as hardline nationalists.

“In fact,
even before the military developed its oppressive cultural policy, so many
artists sought to enlist as war propaganda painters or correspondents that
places could not be found for all of them.”6

It is this
courting of Militaristic and Fascist elements within Japanese politics that saw
Y?ga become the dominant form of art during the wartime years, with it suited
best for depictions of battle scenes, Japanese propaganda, as well as
portraiture7, the Y?ga
artists were benefited by patronage from the military and Imperial Government
throughout this time, as well as formal recognition in the universities and
exhibitions in Japan and the rest of the world.

            However due to this courting of the
facist and militaristic elements of the Japanese government, and the losses
that Japan suffered in World War II 
becoming the albatross around Y?ga’s neck. This led to many Y?ga
painters declaring it incompatible with Japan, or a failure, as Winther-Tamaki outlines.

“Tsuruoka
Masao rejected the fiction of animation inhering in the painted body in the
mid-1950s, but in 1949 he had already pronounced the previous century of
Japanese Y?ga painting a pathetic failure: “One thinks of the all but useless
toil of countless painters and all the materials they wasted. It seems that
they imported nothing but the materials of oil painting.” 2 Another route to
the demise of Y?ga painting is illustrated by the career of Hasegawa Sabur?,
who first studied oil painting under Koide Narashige in the 1920s and whose
turn to nonfigural abstraction in the mid-1930s was mentioned in the
Introduction. By the early 1950s, even the materials of oil painting came to
seem reprehensible to this painter. Convinced that “oil painting did not suit
the disposition of the Japanese people”.”8

This was
coupled with the art of Y?ga being declared as ‘Colonial’ in nature and thought
to be aping the culture and methods of Europe, instead of something new or Japanese.
By distancing themselves from Y?ga, and the loaded connotations the movement
had. Despite the blend of European techniques with Japanese culture and
aesthetic vision, this distancing proved fatal for Y?ga, which was soon superseded
as not only a movement but as even a category of art in japan.

            Now that the brief history of the
movement is finished, this paper will wrap up by looking at four artists and a
single work of theirs that is important to illustrate the growth of Y?ga
painting. The four artists that will be examined in order are, Takahashi
Yuichi, Asai Ch?, Kuroda
Seiki, and Tsuguharu Foujita. Starting with Takahashi, this paper will briefly
go over the artist’s biography before analyzing the chosen painting, helping to
bring to light the importance it had for furthering Y?ga.

 

Takahashi
Yuichi could be called the Grandfather of Yoga, for while he wasn’t the first
to paint with oils, the man was massively important to the early pioneering of
the movement.  Born into a Samurai family
Takahashi was involved and interested with art from a young age, relatively
quickly into his life he would renounce the title of Samurai and seek to become
an artist. Finding himself a student at the Institute for Western Studies,
inspired by lithograph prints he had seen9, he would
engage in self-study, mostly from books that were imported from the
Netherlands. Caught up in a fervor around oil painting, Takahashi would make
numerous achievements to help facilitate its spread across Japan.  While he began his study from merely books,
due to the invitation of western artists to help modernize Japan in the late
edo period, he studied further under the Illustrator Charles Wirgman10, who, while
having no training in oil painting, helped set Takahashi on the path towards
being the most important pioneer of Yoga. Believing it to be his mission to
pioneer this movement, Takahashi not only opened a school dedicated to the
study of yoga, but organized exhibitions of Yoga works across Japan11 as well as
being the editor in Japan’s first Art Periodical, Gay? sekichin12. Takahashi
would spend most of the rest of his life teaching and painting, getting various
commissions and work from the Imperial Court and nobility of Japan, as well as
working to spread Yoga through his periodicals and exhibitions up until his
death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Now
this paper will look at one of Takahashi’s most important works, that being his
painting Salmon pictured above. Being
one of the first and best examples of lifelike realism in Japanese painting,
Takahashi’s attention to detail would set the standard for Yoga Painters
following in his wake. One can see how his strokes are tight, and almost
eliminated to further place focus on the realistic rendition of the salmon.
Along with the attention to local color, he paid great attention to the act of
light upon the salmon’s scales, showing an appreciation for the impressionists’
value of light and blending it with a fidelity reminiscent of the Dutch Realists.
For a work being done by a man who had never visited Europe, the piece brings
though a uniquely Japanese perspective on the world of Oil on Canvas. This piece,
while popular at the time, would help form the framework of the Yoga movement
by setting the goal, the level of realism the later artists would seek to
capture, as well as setting the various stylistic elements in place, the
blending of Impressionism and Realism into something truly unique.

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another artist born from a former
Samurai class family, Asai Chu was one of the first students of the Kobu Bijutsu Gakko, which put him in the
unique position of of not having had to teach himself in the early days of Yoga,
but instead learning from European and already trained Japanese teachers. From
this rather humble beginning as a student, Chu would help, and in fact be the
main establisher of the Meiji Art Society. Which was the first group of Yoga
painters at the time.13  From this he’d go on to spend many years
teaching and helping set up exhibitions much like Takahashi. As well as
becoming a military artist, recording scenes from the Sino-Japanese war of
1894.14 One
of the few Yoga painters to have visited Europe during his life, the European
trip would end up provoking him to move towards adopting an Art Nouveau style.
This trip had also let him establish multiple connections with not only
European artists, but other Japanese abroad, allowing him to help start a
number of movements in the art world of Japan, as well as establish groups in
Ceramics, lacquerware, and even fashion, as well as more teaching at various
universities up until his death.15

 

 

 

 

           

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

                Here we
see Chu’s Harvest, here we see the later appreciation for the brushstrokes and
their embodiment of the painter blending with the looser handling of forms in impressionism.
In this work, we can see themes also apparent in Monet’s Haystacks series,
which were started in the same year. Exploring the local color in his strokes
Chu provides a mirror for European artists, introducing to the East themes that
were revolutionary in Europe at the same time, before Chu had even made his
visit to Europe. In this work, we see an investigation and experimentation away
from High Fidelity realism, to more experimental applications of the paint. This
also saw a shift from topics and subjects of portraiture and still life to
scenes depicting normal life for Japanese citizens, focusing on every day
scenes and depictions of the country. In this blending of new technique and
experimentation with Realist themes that had cemented their important in Yoga
throughout Japan. We also see a realistic consideration of the human body, in this
painting, as well as others of the time period, that the next two works that
will be looked at, build off of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                The
next artist, Kuroda Seiki, was a son of a Samurai and heir to his family.
Unlike the other artists featured Kuroda had no interest in art initially, the
man instead a statesmen and noble in the Emperor’s court, having been named a
viscount.

1
Bert Winther-Tamaki. Maximum Embodiment: Yoga, the Western Painting of Japan,
1912 -1955. (University of Hawaii Press, 2012.), p. 13

2
Ibid., 16

3
Ibid., 15

4
Thomas J. Rimer, Toshiko M. McCallum. Since Meiji: Perspectives on the Japanese
Visual Arts, 1868-2000. (University of Hawaii Press, 2011.), p. 22

5 Bert Winther-Tamaki. Maximum Embodiment: Yoga, the Western
Painting of Japan, 1912 -1955. (University of Hawaii Press, 2012.), p. 8

6
Maki Kaneko. Mirroring the Japanese Empire: the Male Figure in Y?ga Painting,
1930-1950. (Brill, 2015.), p. 3

7 Bert
Winther-Tamaki. ??
/ Y?ga: The Western Painting, National Painting, and Global Painting of Japan..
(Review of Japanese Culture and Society, 2013.), p. 129

8 Bert
Winther-Tamaki. Maximum Embodiment: Yoga, the Western Painting of Japan, 1912
-1955. (University of Hawaii Press, 2012.), p. 163

9 Thomas
J. Rimer, Toshiko M. McCallum. Since Meiji: Perspectives on the Japanese Visual
Arts, 1868-2000. (University of Hawaii Press, 2011.), p. 45

10 Ibid.,
p. 20

11 “TAKAHASHI
Yuichi,” TAKAHASHI Yuichi | The National
Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, accessed December 15 2017, http://www.momak.go.jp/English/exhibitionArchive/2012/393.html

12 Thomas
J. Rimer, Toshiko M. McCallum. Since Meiji: Perspectives on the Japanese Visual
Arts, 1868-2000. (University of Hawaii Press, 2011.), p. 260

13 “Who Is Asai Chu? Everything You Need to Know,” TheFamousPeople, accessed December 15 2017, www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/asai-chu-359.php

14 Thomas
J. Rimer, Toshiko M. McCallum. Since Meiji: Perspectives on the Japanese Visual
Arts, 1868-2000. (University of Hawaii Press, 2011.), p. 133

15 “Who Is Asai Chu? Everything You Need to Know,” TheFamousPeople, accessed December 15 2017, www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/asai-chu-359.php