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Dragon and Butterfly a Comparison

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The interaction of European and Japanese art



  1. Review of the end of the 19th century

1. 1. Japanese history

1. 2 European History

2. Introduction to art media

2.1. Woodcut

2.2 Etching

3.. Examples of influence

3.1. Two pictures one content Katsushika Hokusai/ Horst Janssen

3.2 The composition Claude Monet, Edouard Manet




West and East, Europe and Asia, two cultures and mentalities that could hardly be more opposite.

It's not just aesthetic feelings, views of life and expression in art that differ seriously and lead to the conclusion that unification is impossible. However, both cultural approaches seem to complement each other in a very subtle way. Characterized by the attempt not only to understand the “other side”, but also to possibly learn from it and to use its difference as a source of inspiration, this was and has been the basis for breaking new ground in the creative design process and making things more interesting through being different close.

In this work I would like to try to examine the two cultures to what extent an exchange of knowledge is already taking place and perhaps has had an effect underground, at the basis of artistic creation.

Here the investigation of the exchange should focus on the field of graphic art, in the form of reproduction processes Wood printing, etching painting and drawing, can be limited.

To understand the background, a brief historical overview of the time around 1900 is given so that the external circumstances and their possible influence on the artist can be understood

After a brief introduction to the printing process, an example is provided using images, the analysis of which reveals an interaction.

1.1 Japanese history around 1900

In 1867/68 the Tokugawa era came to an end with the Meiji Restoration. The Emperor Meiji moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, which became the new capital of Japan; his imperial power was restored. However, effective power lay in the hands of a group of nobles and former samurai. The new Japan was determined to make up for the economic and military gap with Western powers. Drastic reforms were carried out in almost all areas.

The new government wanted to make Japan a Western-style democratic state. The social boundaries of the Edo period were gradually reduced. The samurai emerged as losers as they lost all their privileges. The reforms also included the introduction of human rights and religious freedom, which was proclaimed in 1873.

To strengthen the new government, the former daimyo (feudal lords) had to hand over all their land to the emperor. This process was completed in 1870 and was followed by the restructuring of Japan into prefectures. The school system was reformed after the French and later German system. Among these reforms was the introduction of compulsory basic education.

After about a decade or two of intense Western modernization, a resurgence of conservative, nationalist sentiments took place: Confucian and Shinto principles, and religious worship of the emperor were given greater emphasis in schools. Catching up in the military sector was, of course, a high priority of government in an era of European and American imperialism. Like many Asian peoples, the Japanese were forced to enter into unbalanced agreements with Western powers. Compulsory military service was introduced and a new army was built based on the Prussian model and a new navy based on the British model.

In order to transform the almost entirely agricultural economy of the Edo period into a developed, industrial economy, many people were sent abroad to learn Western sciences and languages. Many foreign experts were also brought to Japan. In the political sector, Japan received its first European-style constitution in 1889. A parliament, the Diet, was established, but the emperor remained the sovereign of the country: he stood at the head of the army, navy and the executive and legislative branches. However, the clique (genro) maintained effective control, while the intelligent and capable Emperor Meiji supported virtually all of their actions.

Conflicts of interest in Korea between China and Japan led to the first Sinto-Japanese War in 1894-95. Japan defeated China, gained Taiwan, but was forced by Western powers to give up some other territories it had gained. This action caused the Japanese to further accelerate the rearmament of their military forces. New conflicts of interest in Korea and Manchuria, this time between Russia and Japan, led to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. The Japanese army also emerged victorious from this war and ultimately gained not only territory but also international respect. Japan then increased its influence in Korea and annexed the country in 1910. In Japan, the military successes caused a further strengthening of nationalism . In 1912, Emperor Meiji died and the era of the Genro (ruling clique) came to an end Influenced by Western influences, Japan also underwent a cultural change. Many technical innovations and their possibilities led to the loss of many old traditional crafts and religiously influenced characteristics. These include, among other things, the art of colored woodcuts described later. Photography was a new, faster means of depicting effectively. Traditional themes such as sumo, samurai, Shinto and Gaisha became uninteresting for the modernization of the country that was catching up. With this, knowledge of traditional crafts began to be lost and new media took over design.

1.2 European history around 1900

Circumstances shape a person. They influence his actions and work in his work and his medium. In the following I would like to describe the historical events that influenced the artist in Europe. The turn of the century, i.e. the period around 1900, will be considered here

The middle class was heavily influenced by the democratic ideals of the French Revolution. In addition, the Industrial Revolution brought profound economic and social changes, and the working class was increasingly influenced by socialist, communist and anarchist ideas, particularly the theories summarized by Karl Marx in the 1848 Communist Manifesto.

Further destabilization came from the establishment of nationalist movements in Germany, Italy and Poland, among others, which demanded national unity and/or liberation from foreign rule. As a result of all this, there were a considerable number of attempted coups and wars of independence in the period between 1815 and 1871 (see also July Revolution 1830, February Revolution 1848, March Revolution 1848/1849).

Although the revolutionaries were often defeated, by 1871 most states were no longer absolutist and had received a constitution. Germany was proclaimed a German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm I in Versailles in 1871 after the three German wars of unification (1864 against Denmark, 1866 against Austria and 1870/1871 against France). Until 1890, its policy was largely determined by Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Similar to Germany, after the failure of the democratic and liberal-minded revolutions and independence movements in the Italian principalities, the Italian national state was enforced from above as the Kingdom of Italy under Sardinian leadership after several wars, especially against Austria. In 1861, the Sardinian King Victor Emmanuel II was elected Italian king proclaimed. His Prime Minister Camillo Benso Graf von Cavour played a similar role for Sardinia and Italy as Bismarck did for Prussia and the German Empire. In France, after the fall of Emperor Napoleon III. As a result of the French defeat in the war against Prussia and the North German Confederation, the 3rd French Republic was proclaimed. The last decades of the 19th century were determined by increasing economic and political competition between the great powers of Central Europe, especially the German Empire, France and England. This competition led, among other things, to increased militarization of the respective societies, an arms race, the fight for colonies, especially in Africa and Asia (imperialism), and to an exaggeration of nationalism. In the long term, especially after the dissolution of Bismarck's alliance system, these developments led to had ensured a certain interstate stability until 1890, under Kaiser Wilhelm II during the First World War. (Quote 1)

2.1 Woodcut

Many cultures quickly recognized the advantages of this relatively simple and easy-to-implement graphic printing technique, which uses a relief-like wooden printing block. However, as an expression of his artistic idea, I would like to focus specifically on the print created in Japan (Japanese: Ukiyo-e). It was created in Japan for the simple reproduction of Buddha's writings and was therefore mainly reserved for the temples and monasteries of practicing monks of this faith. Other subjects are only added later. In addition to nature images, these were primarily themes of the “transitory world” that show everyday life: erotic scenes, images from the world of geishas, portraits of actors and sumo wrestlers.

The Japanese woodblock print was produced by a division of labor between draftsman, woodcutter and printer. For the printing process, up to 12 plates or more were cut, which required extremely precise work. To produce the printing block, the non-printing parts are removed from a smoothly planed wooden board with a cutting knife and the raised parts are colored and printed (letterpress). The impression is made by hand rubbing using a bone folder or by a printing press.

To make the printing block:

As a rule, a block of cherry wood is cut to size to create a board that is approximately two to four centimeters thick. It is carefully planed, sanded and smoothed until the completely flat surface can be covered with a primer, usually a thin layer of white chalk. The artist usually applies the preliminary drawing to this layer of chalk, or transfers it using ink after a drawing on paper. The pre-drawn lines are then precisely cut using different knives. In the end, the lines and surfaces of the drawing remain as ridges, webs or islands. With a single-color print, the plate would now be ready to print. In the course of development, the technology was refined to the extent that prints with 4-5 color tones could also be created. A separate printing plate for each color was now made with much more effort.

The Printing

is done by pressing the wooden stick onto an absorbent, i.e. unsized and slightly moistened paper, which then absorbs the ink. As with calligraphy, printing is always done first with black ink, Sumi.

The other colors are then printed in any order with the corresponding wooden blocks applied.

After each printing process, the plates must be re-colored.

2.2 Etching

After introducing the woodcut, which can be seen as a traditional means of representation for Japanese artists, the etching, classic for European artists, will now be presented here.

The book by Horst Janssen “Hokusai's Walk” (see literature) (for references see appendix) should serve as a basis for this.

Janssen impressively describes how he implements the complicated process of creating an etching in a light, playful way and impressively brings his works to life.

Although the work process seems uncomplicated and simple at first glance, it requires a fair amount of artistry, practice and ultimately experience to depict the desired motif.

To the formation:

Different etching methods are used in the creation process. These are stitch etching of linear images, surface etching to represent areas and shades of different brightness, and drypoint etching.

For line etching, a testing device for jewelers and watchmakers is used. For surface etching, the surface is dotted or processed over the surface with abrasives.

The drypoint can be a sharp safety pin.

About the etching method:

After the etching base (copper or zinc), which is as smooth and polished as possible, has been prepared without grease, a thin, even layer of a mixture of turpentine and asphalt varnish is applied crosswise and dried for approx. 1 hour.

The eraser needle is then used to scratch the coating to expose the metal. In the following process, the metal plate is etched with 80% nitric acid diluted with 3-5 parts water.

Depending on the duration and intensity of the acid, metal is etched away. After removing the protective layer with turpentine, the result can now be examined. If further details or effects are to be achieved, such as etching the surfaces of a different type, the finished areas must now be coated with the varnish again to protect this part from further etching.

Once all components of the etching have been laid out satisfactorily, the printing ink can be applied. This solid color is heated and applied to the also heated printing plate. The deeper grooves created by the removal of the acid are filled with paint. It is important to apply the paint evenly with the fabric and the palm of your hand so that the paint is only applied to the recesses. Areas that should later remain white in the picture must be exposed and show bare metal.

Now you can print. This depends largely on the skill of the printer, who must be familiar with the result to be achieved. The moistened paper (according to Janssen: “clammy”) is placed on a felt base, covered with the heated eraser plate and passed through a spindle similar to one Clothes spindle pulled. This presses the plate with rubbed in paint onto the paper and transfers the image.

After removing the glued paper, it is placed between two pieces of cardboard to dry. For each subsequent print, the procedure must be repeated, i.e. applying the ink, heating the plate and pressing.

3. Examples of influence

From 1850 onwards, Japanese woodcuts of a particularly high technical and artistic level reached Europe in large numbers and influenced numerous European artists. The French painter Felix Bracquemond is credited with being the first to discover the artistic value of Japanese woodcuts in 1856, after he had seen some of Katsushika's works Hokusai had seen. Especially impressionists such as B. Claude Monet and Edouard Manet felt confirmed in their own theories about color and form and at the same time drew new inspiration from them. The Japanese woodcut also influenced the artists of the Nabis circle and the early expressionists, such as Paula Modersohn-Becker.

The following is an analysis of two images in which a first interaction becomes visible.

3.1 Two images, one content

The left picture is a watercolor pencil drawing by the German artist Janssen, the right

is a woodcut by the Japanese Hokusai. Each in different media, a colored drawing and a print in black and white.

The right picture served as a template and shows a warrior on a double page From the right, with a widely sweeping sword from a slope, attacked another opponent who was falling to the ground. He - desperately defending himself - falls into the water at the edge behind him. Originally intended as a portrait format, Janssen converted it into a landscape format and thus stylized it as an arabesque of the battle. (Quote 2) Now the question arises as to why a highly gifted and successful artist like the Oldenburg native imitates another, although slightly modified in detail.

Now this question can perhaps be explained by the fact that, influenced by his studies, he followed an ideology that might seem too simple and naive to a European. Nevertheless, the first signs of the adoption of the art and cultural historical background of a culture and their adaptation can be seen here. It makes sense to punish the imitations of not only many designers, but also in this case of an artist, a work, which are usually interpreted as shameful, as plagiarism. But before making a quick judgment, a difference must be recognized and understood. According to Japanese tradition, the person copies Apprentice his master. By emulating his work, he internalizes the mental and practical processes that are necessary for its creation and is then ready to add new things. A dialogue arises that arises from the supposed copy.According to Egon Friedell, there are only a small number of unchangeable truths...The only thing that is different is the position that the individual person takes towards these truths: the average person doubts them, the talent makes an attempt to multiply them, the genius repeats them (quote 3)


Without the pressure to be original, what is recognized as valid finds its image here in the East Asian approach to a ritual repetition of old masters.

3.2 The composition

The classic Japanese woodcut is characterized by monochrome surfaces with stylized contours, which emphasize the flat character of the image. Spatiality finds its expression through overlapping and overlapping objects. A center point is missing, inviting the viewer to let their eyes wander across the decorative picture surface.

The prints often feature unusual angles and figures cut off at the edge of the picture. Many impressionists resorted to this type of composition, which was completely opposite to their view of image composition in the Western tradition.

Claude Monet (1840-1926)

The water lily painting by Claude Monet

With the permission of the community, Monet diverted the small river and created his famous water garden. In this garden is the green Japanese bridge, which, like the pond's water lilies, is a motif in many of Monet's paintings. This is where the series of his large-format water lily paintings, the Grandes Décorations des Nymphéas , were created, now owned by the French state and exhibited in the Orangery of the Tuileries.

Bright colors, flat image elements and the contour-like representation of the bridge as the image content show the Japanese influence.

Edouard Manet (1832-1883)

The first European painter to be influenced by Japanese art and its way of treating scenes of everyday life. He was familiar with Hokusai's manga and in the background of his Zola portrait you can see a Japanese screen and a color woodcut of an actor. In his pictures he reduces the perspective representation, and instead of shading, grading and spatially modeling the color, as the academic painting style required, he painted flat-looking, uniform color areas, as can be seen in Japanese woodcuts (Quote 4)

Portrait of Emile Zola (1876)


The realization that there are approaches even far from European culture that contain a different truth. In the case of the Japanese, this is far older and therefore more mature in terms of cultural history than the one that prevails in the West. Japan, completely isolated and cut off from the rest of the world and its influences during the Edo period (1603 - 1867), perhaps had time to become culturally independent to thrive and grow - an evolution out of oneself. A quote from Horst Janssen at the presentation of the large volume on the “copy” in March 1977:

.. “Slipping into another handwriting - listening and listening to the communication of someone who is far ahead - forgetting your own self - that is: wanting to lose yourself - forgetting yourself - in order to find yourself again and again”. .

What is created should be interesting and new. Taking up the Japanese idea of image design not only creates a cultural understanding, but also a profound quality that can perhaps create attractive new things by bringing together opposites. This insight can be gained from analysis and comparison from such different artistic contents as the Western and Eastern image of the way art is represented.

4. Appendix literature

Janssen, Horst

Hokusai's walk

Hamburg, Hans Christians publishing house 1972

Cawthorne Nigel


The art of Japanese woodcuts Augsburg, Battenberg Verlag 1998


(1) Janssen, Horst (1929-1995) Hokusai's Walk , etching, 1. version. October 28, 1971

(2) Janssen, Horst, watercolor pencil drawing “Bon Voyage” after Hokusai, March 13 , 19712

(3) Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1846) Woodcut by Hokusai from the book “Ehon musashi abumi” 1836

Quotes(1) Wikipedia History of Europe As of: June 9, 2006

(2;3) Janssen, Horst With a Japanese brush, so to speak (page 13;5) Catalog to accompany the exhibition “Seen with a brush - Japanese drawing and painting of the 17-20th century. Century from the Gerhard Schack collection “

(4) The art of Japanese woodblock prints (see literature)

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