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Until May 25th the prestigious Kunsthaus Zürich holds a very interesting exhibition called “Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh Inspiration Japan”. This exhibition reflects the deep influence of Japanese art and culture into Western painters like Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh as well as Cezanne, Courbet or Degas.

And the world met Japan – 1860

During the second half of the 19th century, Europe and Japan have reopened their trade relations. After the influence of Portuguese and Dutch missionaries and traders during the 16th and the 17th century, Japan decided to close down to foreigners and foreign influence. The Tokugawa family ruled Japan and took the decision to close down all trade relationships. During their reign of 265 years, Japan refocus on their traditions, history and art. It was only by the end of the 19th century, that Europe succeeded to reinstate trade relationships. It was then a true rediscovery of Japan for the World. Trade relationships started again and art pieces and objects started circulating again. Japan became very trendy and influential among the Western Europe artists. They discovered the Ukyio-e prints and got inspired by several Japanese art topics like mountains, animals and flowers. This new and fresh source of inspiration gave a new angle to impressionism, fauvism and pointillism.



Claude Monet, the Japanese dream

One amazing thing we discover during the exhibition is how far Claude Monet went on the Japanese experience. His property at Giverny was completely shaped to fulfill his Japanese dream. From Water Lilies ponds to bridges over the waters, it is the entire painter’s environment that was built up to match a certain vision of Japan aesthetics. This decor generated one of the most amazing masterpieces from Monet, some of them can be observed at the Kunsthaus in Zürich.

Monet-water-lilies-work Monet-water-lilies

Vincent Van Gogh, nature sublime

The Japanese influence on Van Gogh’s work might be more subtle than on Monet artwork but it brought a new dimension on the painter’s work. It definitely helped Vincent Van Gogh to reach an intense level of nature expression. Sunsets became all flames and showed a magical intensity that were completely inspired by Japanese art. The perspective of men and nature, the placement of different elements present in Japanese art, gave a certain structure to Van Gogh’s work making some of its paintings as true masterpieces of the genre.




Gustave Courbet, a new energy from the sea

Japanese art brought to Western painters a new perspective in terms of how to illustrate certain natural elements. Things like mountains, sunsets and even sea got a new dimension, more intense, deep, in-motion. Gustave Courbet got literally obsessed by the representation of the sea. Before the Japanese influence, the sea was a vast thick mass that would be represented in a very classical way. The Japanese painters gave a different focus. Scenery is more close-up styles and we would rather focus on a single wave rather than a hole sea. Waves get alive and have its own energy captivating the eyes of the person observing the scene. Waves can also express feelings of anger, happiness, strength and even sadness. In the Zürich exhibition we can see a series of Courbet’s artwork completely fulfilling this idea in which the sea becomes the mirror of human soul.

Gustave-Courbet-la-mer Gustave-Courbet-lamer

Japanese-art-sea Japanese-sea-art

Picasso, naughty boy goes dirty

Another interesting aspect of the Japanese influence in the Western painting is the erotic artwork called Shunga.

While this style of artwork was very common in Japan, enjoyed by both men and women, only a few European painters truly dared to explore it. Pablo Picasso definitely dared to push the erotic Japanese style to the maximum. You can definitely see the influence in the examples presented at the Kunsthaus.


Zürich Kunsthaus Museum
Heimplatz 1
CH-8001 Zürich
Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh Japanese inspiration is opened until May 25th 2015. so you still have some days left before the end. It is a very original and interesting exhibition in case you want to better understand the work of Western Europe artists at the end of the 19th century. 



 Info sourced during the visit of the exhibition at Kunsthaus Zürich, the museum website, wikipedia and All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available.