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An illuminating film about Vincent van Gogh’s interest in Japanese art, and how it influenced and affected his own work. Deriving from a 2018 exhibition at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, it is possibly something of a niche subject for a full-length documentary; but it demonstrates again how that clutch of impressionist and post-impressionist artists are just gravy to galleries and film-makers.
By getting interested – or as one learned commentator here says, obsessed – with Japanese print-making, Van Gogh was not especially unique: “Japonisme” was a growing cultural force in France in the second half of the 19th century. Van Gogh, according to the various academics and curators interviewed here, took it all more seriously than most, elaborating a set of both philosophical and aesthetic ideas from Japanese art – mostly woodblock prints in the ukiyo-e manner – he had access to. The resemblance between Van Gogh’s thickly coloured, expansively organised paintings and the exquisitely controlled work he admired is not always apparent, but the interviewees go into considerable detail.
There is undoubtedly some element of what we might call cultural appropriation at play here: Van Gogh’s adulation of Japanese artists’ “finer” and “simpler” sensibilities are somewhat odd to hear nowadays, especially as Van Gogh never visited the country, and worked basically from books and prints; one of the Japanese academics interviewed here called the artist’s devotion to Japan as “strange”. However, much stress is laid on the way in which Van Gogh incorporated his borrowings into his own personal style – in the end, this film is less about Van Gogh’s interaction with another artistic tradition than about how he used it as an intellectual prop to develop his own work. The fact that, after his death, his work achieved considerable popularity in Japan in the 1920s – partly on the strength of a translation of Van Gogh’s famous letters to his brother, which extolled Japanese art at length – would hopefully have proved a consolation to an artist who failed to achieve success in his own lifetime.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Van Gogh and Japan review – from strange obsession to lasting impression | Film