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Eighth Station: Hiratsuka, Ferry on the Banyû River and View of Mount Ōyama, 1855

Utawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Utawa Hiroshige (autor) and Tsutaya Kichizo (editor)
From the series Famous Views of the Fifty-three Stations 
Color woodblock print on Japanese paper 
26 x 38 cm 
Bujalance Collection 
© Foto: Fernando Ramajo 

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Japanese prints were among the weightier influences that would change the course of European art in the late 19th century. Their circulation among artistic circles was decisive for Fauvist painters such as Henri Matisse. But how did these images make their way to Europe? 


The journey began in 1868, the year in which Japan’s two centuries of cultural isolation came to an end, and its ports were finally opened up to international trade. As a result, many of its products were brought to Europe for the first time, including Japanese prints such as the ones we can see here. These scenes of palaces or everyday life awoke the interest of young European artists who were seeking new forms of expression, having become unsatisfied with the rules imposed by the academic tradition of the schools of fine art. 


The Japanese prints had motifs similar to those of European art, such as street scenes or cityscapes. But also a sophisticated and bold eroticism, however their approach to representation was different: they stood out for their perspective, which was seemingly “flattened”, and they had a sense of gravity that was entirely new to the European Renaissance tradition. The tracing and use of lines to delimit the figures, along with the chromatic combinations, offered thrilling possibilities for daring to experiment with paint. 


The influence of the use of color in Japanese prints was evident in the work of the Fauvist painters. Drawn from the ranks of these artists, we display an early work by Matisse, in which we can see this expressive use of color. The artist himself spoke of its importance in the following terms: 


The dominant tendency of color should be to serve expression in the best way possible. I paint my tones without any prejudice whatsoever. If, at first glance and possibly without being aware of it, a particular tone has seduced me or stopped me, I will verify, as a general rule, that once the painting is finished I have respected this tone, while progressively transforming and modifying all of the others. The expressive side of colors imposes itself on me in a purely instinctive manner.