What’s On: VAN GOGH & JAPAN

Photo Credit: Van Gogh & Japan © David Bickerstaff.

EXHIBITION ON SCREEN, the award-winning series that explores the biographies of history’s most Whats revered artists, concludes its sixth season with Van Gogh & Japan, in cinemas nationwide from 4 June.

Van Gogh & Japan j​ourneys from the critically acclaimed exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, to the beauty of Provence, and the enigma of Japan itself. Featuring Van Gogh’s personal letters and written accounts by friends and contemporaries this moving film reveals the story of Van Gogh’s deep connection to Japanese art, despite never travelling to Japan himself, and the role it has in understanding his most iconic works. As well as investigating the expression of Van Gogh’s ‘japonisme’, the film explores how Japanese society have developed an affinity to Van Gogh’s work as a result of his engagement with their culture. Featuring insights from contemporary artists, including calligrapher Tomoko Kawao and performance artist Tatsumi Orimoto, ​Van Gogh & Japan provides revealing and modern perspectives on the rich, symbiotic relationship between Van Gogh and Japan.

Photo Credit: Van Gogh & Japan © David Bickerstaff

As the Edo period came to an end in 1868 and Japan opened up to the West, Paris became awash with all things Japanese in the form of decorative objects and colourful woodcut prints called ‘ukiyo-e’. Whilst Van Gogh had no desire to visit Japan, he became fascinated with elements of their visual culture and how they could be adapted in his own pursuit of a new way of seeing. He read descriptions of Japan and studied Japanese works carefully, learning from their bold and contrasting use of colour, their compositional fluidity of line and their unusual croppings of natural forms. He also acquired a large quantity of Japanese prints which he tried to sell without success, although they did provide a great source of inspiration.

Photo Credit: Van Gogh & Japan © David Bickerstaff

In 1888, Paris became too much for Vincent and he left for the south of France, in the pursuit of new subject matter and a healthier life. In Provence, he discovered a beautiful landscape, powerful light and exotic people which spoke to his idealised vision of Japan – his Japanese dream. The productive yet troubled years that followed produced some of the most unique and iconic works in Van Gogh’s oeuvre such as ​The Sunflowers​ and his series of iconic portraits.