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  Monet Logo Bottom From the exhibition theme Modern Life Modern Vision  

Modern Life Modern Vision
Forces of Nature
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Modern Life Modern Vision
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When Monet became an art student in Paris in 1862, French society was changing at a dizzying speed, and young painters were searching for new ways of representing modern life. Many of them thought that Japanese prints — which had only recently appeared in France — could help them do so.

Monet painted city people enjoying themselves on the River Seine near Paris; his family in their garden above the sea watching the modern steamships with cargoes of goods from around the world — including Japanese art — to France; crowds in an entirely new Parisian boulevard; a steam train on an iron bridge at Argenteuil, the town near Paris where Monet lived during the 1870s.

The painting of modern life was not only a matter of depicting modern subjects, but of finding ways to represent perceptions accelerated by the speed of modern life.

Monet’s study of 19th-century Japanese prints, which also depicted contemporary life, helped him develop his Impressionism. Their use of flat planes of bright colour, asymmetry, and telescoping of near and far, suggested ways in which he could develop alternatives to the harmonious cool tones, balanced compositions, and slow rhythms of traditional landscape painting.

The woodblock prints displayed in this exhibition are known as ukiyo-e, or ‘Pictures of the Floating World’, an art form that developed during the period from 1600 to 1868 when Japan isolated itself from the outside world. This popular and affordable art symbolised the transient pleasures of life.

The two great masters of the ukiyo-e landscape print, Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and his younger contemporary Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), were born, lived and worked in the capital, Edo (the site of today’s Tokyo). Although Edo was a crowded city, there were ample opportunities to enjoy leisure activities beside tree-lined waterways and in the landscaped precincts and gardens of temples and shrines. Seasonal outings to local beauty spots were popular, and the publishers of ukiyo-e prints profited from people’s enthusiasm for sightseeing by commissioning series of prints of famous places.

The innovative designs of Hokusai and Hiroshige made their prints very popular. Monet’s own collection of Japanese prints included many of these lively images of life in and around the major cities of Edo and Kyoto.