November 15, 2012
19th Century Art History
Benjamin Rivière’s first woodblock print of The Tower Under Construction, View from the Trocadero, 1888-1902 from the series Thirty-six Views From the Eiffel Tower, and Ando Hiroshige’s woodblock print of The Gion Temple in Snow, 1830, are very similar at a first glance. It is clear that Rivière, along with many other Western Europeans of the time, greatly admired the style of the Japanese woodblock prints finding them to be beautiful, refreshing, and aesthetically pleasing. While the title and the massive tower in the background in Rivière’s woodblock print was inspired by Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, there is no doubt that the composition, subject matter and style was inspired by Hiroshige’s The Gion Temple in Snow. (Weisberg 57)
Japanese woodblock prints began to be noticed in the mid nineteenth-century Paris when artists began looking at the wrappings of goods that were sent to Paris from Japan. (Clark) A term was coined, “Japonisme”, meaning the new trend of assimilating the style of woodblock prints into paintings, Japanese fashion into French fashion and copying styles of the ceramic goods such as plates and vases. (Munro) Some romantics saw the woodblock style as a continuation of Romanticism, only with a new flair of this appealing and exotic Japanese culture. (Weisberg 1)
In the early 1850’s Commodore Matthew Perry, from America, supported greatly a bigger trade of art works between Japan and the West. As more Japanese art began showing up in major cities such as London and Paris, interest in the works provoked a great stir during which the art works caught the eyes of printmakers, art critics, artists and many other art-related citizens of France and other Western cities. Even the eyes of French women were caught as Japanese fans were available to them by the 1880’s.
The introduction of Japanese prints in France, however, most likely did not come as a surprise to French citizens. A book about Japan, the Atlas Japanensis, was published in 1670 in London and held engravings of Japanese people and landscapes and depicted contact between Japan and the West. Other books were published in England and France during the 18th century and early 19th century, writing about the history of Japan. Dutch artist Philipp Von Siebold created study guides about Japanese art in the 1830’s which were later used by French “Japonistes”.
Von Siebold also owned several lithographs by the Japanese artist Keiga and produced books containing collections of Japanese prints in Holland. In 1862 an Englishman named Sir Rutherford Alcock had Japanese art brought to London as an exhibition for Europeans to witness. By the late 1860’s Japanese woodblock prints were available everywhere in Europe. The prints could be easily bought from shops, candy stores, tea warehouses and other large stores. French stores sold not only Japanese prints but other Japanese objects as well. (Weisberg 2)
So in the late 1800’s, rather than Japanese prints in France and other parts of Europe being a surprising new concept, the building popularity of the prints occurred as a result of Europe’s growing interest in Japan as a whole.
Hiroshige’s The Gion Temple in Snow and Rivière’s The Tower Under Construction, View from the Trocadero first appear to be nearly identical. Although Rivière’s work seems identical to Hiroshige’s in nearly every aspect, the idea of Rivière’s Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower comes from Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Rivière created this woodblock painting during the duration of time the Eiffel tower was being built, adding the Eiffel Tower in the background of the painting while still borrowing from the styles of Hiroshige’s The Gion Temple in Snow.
In The Tower Under Construction, View from the Trocadero, and in The Gion Temple in Snow, the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the still falling snow that blankets the entire scene in...