In conjunction with the activities commemorating 400 years of relations between the Netherlands and Japan, the Van Gogh Museum is organising the exhibition Reflections: Japan and Japonism. The main question to be addressed is how Japan was perceived by Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries.
Come now, isnít it almost a true religion which these simple Japanese teach us, who live in nature as though they themselves were flowers. And you cannot study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming much gayer and happier, and we must return to nature in spite of our education and our work in a world of convention. (from a letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo, 24 September 1888)
Like many 19th-century artists, Vincent van Gogh was greatly intrigued by Japan. Together with his brother Theo, he collected prints, which were widely available in Europe after Japan opened for trade in 1854. The prints determined Vincentís image of Japan and served as a source of inspiration for his paintings. He was fascinated by the charming subjects and copied a few prints, including the now famous japonaiseries after Hiroshige: The flowering plum tree and The bridge in the rain.
Van Gogh and his contemporaries were also influenced by Japanese (art) objects, which were brought back from the Far East by dealers, artists, friends and others, several striking examples of which are on view, including impressive bronze lions, beautiful vases and other objects from the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden, and a bronze crane from the Museum Mesdag in The Hague. Together with the prints, they offer a clear picture of what was known about Japan in 19th-century Europe.
Also featured are splendid, Japanese-inspired objects of art by Emile Galle, Francois Eugene Rousseau, Felix Bracquemond and the Fenton brothers. These never-before exhibited Japanesque works from the collection of Herman Dommisse demonstrate how Ė alongside painting Ė glasswork, ceramics and other forms of applied art reflect the shapes and motifs of Japanese art.
The works are thematically arranged, and links are laid between the prints, the Japanese and Japanesque art objects. Regularly recurring elements from nature include bamboo stems, birds and blossoming trees. In Japan, bamboo is a symbol of perseverance, because its flexible and resilient stems can weather even the worst of storms. Like evergreens, it also stands for prosperity and longevity. The bamboo motif is not only reflected in the shape of the vase itself, but also in the decorations on the vases. In combination with other decorative elements (pine branches, cherry blossom and birds), the scenes depicted thus receive added meaning.
The subject of blossoming trees is also encountered in the work of Van Gogh and in the print collection that he and Theo assembled. Along with a preference for bright colours and well-defined shapes, Van Gogh also shared a love for nature with the Japanese.
The guest curators of the exhibition are Kris Schiermeier and Matthi Forrer (curator of Japan in the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden).
A sushi bar will be open to the public in the promenade of the new wing for the duration of the exhibition. Fresh sushi will be served there daily between 12:00 am and 4:00 pm (É 15.- per portion).
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Small pear tree in blossom, 1888
Oil on Canvas,
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
(Vincent van Gogh Foundation)