Sunday, September 28, 2014

Weekend Part 1 - The Impressionists and Japan

28 September 2014

We had a really busy and exciting weekend, but I want to write about it in two parts.  So please check for parts 1 and 2, so that you get the whole story.  And part 2 is more exciting, but, well, part 1 was good also.

We took the train from our closest station, Kayabacho (pronounced kai like k-eye without a pause - kai-YA-bah-cho - the O is always long as in no) - and went to Roppongi - yeah, I know, that's roe-PONG-ghee.  So, we went to the National Art Center in Roppongi, because there was another exhibit of French Impressionist art from the d'Orsay, the modern art museum in Paris.

The place was packed - it was Saturday, the exhibit had opened rather recently, and Japanese people seem to really enjoy Impressionist art.  Which I find fascinating, given that the Impressionists were intrigued and influenced by Japanese art, especially woodblock prints (ukiyo-e).  Really, trade with Japan and Europe was renewed in the 1850s, and the Impressionists saw Japanese art as something to emulate, but in their own style.  They were attracted by the lack of perspective, flat areas of color with little or no shading, and a different composition than they were used to - where objects might not be centered or even balanced.  The influence of Japanese art on the Impressionists is referred to as Japonism, and there are books as well as exhibits that focus on this influence.  

So seeing Japanese people looking at European art that was influenced by Japanese art - well, it just makes me think and wonder.  Do they see the effect and impact Japanese art had on the Impressionists?  Do they see the similarities?  Maybe this is why Japanese people flock to exhibits of Impressionism?  Or, is it just that the Impressionists were a major body of painters who have become familiar through popular media and contemporary visual literacy?

And then, as I was wandering around, looking over heads and going at my own pace instead of following the crowds, I read some of the information placards.  One of descriptions used the word chiaroscuro - a common art term meaning strong dark and light shading or shadows, from the Italian chiara, light, and scuro, dark.  One of those words that art teachers use in the classroom and teach to their seventh and eighth grade students, because the concept of shading is important.  Anyway, so was the word chiaroscuro used in the Japanese description?  How was it translated?  I asked a young man nearby, who spoke a little English - he said the Japanese and English weren't exact translations of each other, so no, the word chiaroscuro wasn't translated nor transliterated.  (I know, some of you are thinking this is strange - but all of my artist and art teacher friends are nodding their heads and saying to themselves that this is very interesting.)

Anyway, here are photos of some of my favorite paintings at this exhibit, all copied from the internet because the paintings are owned by the Musée d'Orsay and photos aren't allowed.  

The information we were given had some name changes, I'm guessing from French to Japanese to English - but from top to bottom we have:  "The Fifer" by Edouard Manet; "Luncheon on the Grass" by Claude Monet (and yes, it is two separate canvases, very outre at that time); "Le Gare Saint Lazare, Exterior" by Monet; "Ballet Rehearsal on the Set" by Edgar Degas, strangely colorless; "Plum Trees in Flower, Spring" by Camille Pissarro, our co-islander from St. Thomas; "The Cradle" by Berthe Morisot; "Arrangement in Black and Grey No. 1" by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (yes, we call it "Whistler's Mother" - he didn't); and "The Floor Scrapers" by Gustave Caillebotte.

Last bit of information about this particular exhibit that was interesting - the placards described the development of Impressionism, and how the Impressionists broke from the traditions of the French Royal Academy of Art and Sculpture, and thus were rejected for the yearly exhibitions of the Academy.  But included in the exhibit were paintings by artists who were contemporaries of the Impressionists, and whose art tended to follow the expectations of the Academy - realistic, grand history paintings, allegories, major attention to shading and detail - the paintings that you can tell took years to complete and have all the life painted out of them.  It was interesting to see both styles included so the viewer could compare and contrast the paintings and thus better understand what constitutes Impressionist art.

And yes, the building of the National Art Center of Tokyo was amazing - modern glass, a variety of shapes, and interesting interior as well.

So we spent some time walking around Roppongi, which is sort of midtown Tokyo and extremely urban - elevated trains and highways, shops and malls and flashing lights and neon signs.  We enjoyed the busy-ness of the area, but were a little overwhelmed by the inflated prices.  Well, it probably is a more touristy area than where we've been staying, thus the inflated prices.

But we had great views of the Tokyo Tower, all lit up at night.  (Yesterday's photos of a tower are of the Sky Tree, which is new and taller than the old Tokyo Tower.)

We eventually made our way back to our subway stop, and walked back to our quieter neighborhood, across the blue bridge and with lovely views of Tokyo at night, all lit up.  It turns out that the trains were were taking previously, from Shinagawa, are all above-ground trains and thus not part of the Tokyo Metro system, which is all subways.  No wonder we couldn't figure out what line we were on and why it wasn't on the map!  There are two parallel systems that overlap - and there doesn't seem to be a map showing the two of them at the same time.  Sigh.  The system is not designed to make sense to tourists.  Or people who live here.

Anyway, it was a great day, we had a wonderful time, and came home quite tired.  Which is as it should be when one is exploring new places.

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