Japan's Kuniyoshi inspired Monet as well as manga

Wed Mar 18, 2009 7:43am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - One review of the Royal Academy's new exhibition dedicated to 19th century Japanese print artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi calls him "one of the godfathers of manga."

Modern manga cartoons' debt to his subject matter and drawing style is instantly recognizable in the 150 or so works on display at "Kuniyoshi: From the collection of Professor Arthur R. Miller."

The stirring, action-packed images of samurai warriors from Japan's past, of legends, myths, landscapes and beautiful women were the comics of his day, designed to be seen by as many people as possible and regularly copied.

What may be less obvious is the debt to Kuniyoshi and his color woodblock printing rivals owed by impressionist masters like Claude Monet.

"What you think of as the impressionists -- Monet, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet -- they all were aware of the Japanese woodblock artists," Miller told Reuters after a press preview of the show, which runs at the London gallery from March 21-June 7.

"If you go to Monet's house in Giverny and look at the walls, they are literally covered with some of the greatest woodblock prints."

Miller said the impressionists were struck by the woodblock artists' command of perspective, particularly in their landscapes, while features like clouds and water were rendered in a "primitive impressionist" style.

"Kuniyoshi himself was influenced by the West so the influences are going both ways. Some of Kuniyoshi's worst prints are his attempts to capture Western realism."   Continued...