East to West: Katsushika Hokusai and Félix Bracquemond

This week’s opening of “Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930” got us thinking about the unlikely intersections between artist and admirer, and perhaps no one’s lasting reputation has been better served by a fan than Japanese Ukiyo-e master Katsushika Hokusai.

You probably recognize the work of Hokusai. Rendered in the distinct style of Ukiyo-e, the art of the Japanese woodblock print, his 1826–1833 series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” provided indelible images which have pervaded western culture for a century and a half. The Great Wave off Kanagawa is practically synonymous with Japanese art. But you may not realize that French Impressionist Félix Bracquemond brought Hokusai’s work to the world.

In the mid-1850s, Bracquemond happened upon the artist’s sketches at the workshop of a Paris printer and immediately told friends of his discovery. His social circle included fathers of Modernism and Impressionism, and soon he would make a Hokusai-collectors of Manet spread the Japanese master’s influence to Renoir and van Gogh.

Hokusai’s popularity was a catalyst for wide-reaching Japonisme, influencing Western artists through Art Nouveau, abstraction, and beyond. But it all started with Bracquemond’s enthusiasm, and his adoption of Ukiyo-e’s flat, orderly scenes from Hokusai’s sketchbook to his own. Fate? Chance? We’re just happy Bracquemond spread the word.

“Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930” is on view at the Noguchi Museum from September 25th through January 26th, 2014.

Explore In Focus: Japan on Artsy.

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