Japanese artists were involved in several different print processes which helped to distinguish their work from other nations. Several wooden block techniques and drawing methods have since been given specific names to help to categorise the artists of several eras, most notably between the 17th and 19th centuries. Hiroshige is one artist featured throughout this website and his paintings are instantly recognisable to even the occasional art fan. He worked on whole series of paintings which would fit together to produce a stunning collection of art, all inter-related and along similar themes. Hokusai did likewise and the two together form the main catalogue of famous works from the 17th to 19th century.
Besides those two, there were of course many other notable names but the modern media has tended to focus almost entirely on them alone, particularly within Europe. A growing interest by younger generations in Japanese paintings has allowed others to start to receive a greater focus but generally speaking, most people are more interested in genres rather than artists, be it the sprawling landscapes, depictions of Mount Fuji, the smartly dressed local ladies or the stunning flowers and plants in still life arrangements. Nature is key to much of this nation's art and this allows us to re-connect with such things from within our own homes. Nature and the environment more generally have been ignored for perhaps too long, and are starting to return to our consciousness, with art providing a vessel for that.
Japanese history has been turbulent at times over the past ten to fifteen centuries, with religious influence coming and going in the form of Buddhism. Influences would come from abroad during different periods, before the country would be locked away and these different ideas would develop locally. In the past two centuries we have also started to see contemporary art taking on European influences, when previously it had always been about Japanese paintings and prints leaving an impact in the opposite direction. It has been this connection across different continents that has allowed us all to learn so much about the art from different cultures and in many cases we may actually prefer styles and techniques found in far flung destinations rather than what is on our own doorstep. Within art, there should always be room for different tastes and also we should all be encouraged to study as broad an array of influences as possible.
Most Famous Japanese Painting of All Time
The title of best known artwork to have come from Japan simply has to be Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa, which is instantly recognisable for millions around the world, whether they are art aficionados or not. The huge wave dominates, whilst the iconic Mount Fuji is perched beautifully in the far background. The colours and style feels exceptionally contemporary and you will find examples of this image used in all manner of different products, from stickers, to mugs and so forth. Despite that, it was actually produced as far back as the early 19th century. Artistic tastes have changed and widened in recent generations and this has allowed influences from outside of national or cultural boundaries to also be celebrated within the mainstream, where as before they would just be treated as niche interests. A huge amount of attention in the media has been given to Great Wave off Kanagawa in recent years which has had the added benefit of bringing exposure more generally to the careers of Hokusai and also Hiroshige, with both having many other artworks of note as well.
Common Japanese Painting Genres
The theme of landscape painting was integral to the success of the Japanese artists between the 17th and 19th century. They could take the stunning rolling hills and mountains of this varied and rich region and append their own creative ideas. Few nations have given more to landscape painting than Japan, with Hiroshige and Hokusai tending to focus entirely on its beauty, with little interation of humanity. We will often see man-made buildings and bridges, but these would somehow merge into the rest of the scene as if organic creations themselvse. Japanese architecture is also a regularly respected and studied genre which provides a suitable support to the charming backdrops of the countryside. In other cultures, particularly within more recent times, the comparison between nature and humanity has been far more abrupt, something that has made our own lives poorer as a result.
As an island nation with a high intake of fish and shellfish within their diet, Japan has always placed a great significance upon the surrounding waters which provide life and beauty to the country. We then have inspiration for art through both the manmade tools designed for life on the waves, as well as the sheer beauty of the different behaviour of the sea and also rivers further in land. Great Wave off Kanagawa is undoubtably the most famous Japanese seascape, which also manages to include the iconic sight of Mount Fuji in the background, but there are also many other fine alternatives to enjoy within the oevure of Japanese art. It is also important to remember that water itself holds a great symbolic significance to Japanese culture and is also a major part of garden design, where a steady stream or pond can bring calmness and encourage self-reflection.
Flowers and Plants
The beauty found within many Japanese gardens is not exclusively down to the traditions of design that have been passed down generations. It is also due to the plethora of stunning plants and flowers that can be found in Japan, with many being found only in this region. You will find countless examples within the oeuvre of both Hokusai and Hiroshige, as well as many other more contemporary artists. Some of the species included also have a deep connection to Japanese culture, such as the blossoming trees which are celebrated by millions across the country each and every year. The theme that runs through most of the plants featured within Japanese art would be the beauty of bloom, as a flower achieves its most stunning status. The wait for it to reach this point, which can sometimes be very long, is a test of human patience and also adds to the enjoyment of when it arrives at the summit of aesthetic beauty.
Animals, Fish and Mammals