East blends with West

Japanese art profoundly influenced Western artists in the 19th century. This phenomenon even got itself a name: "Japonism."

Not so well known in the West, perhaps, is how strongly Japanese art was affected by Western art. Some Japanese artists, sensing perhaps the danger of cultural takeover, wanted to at least strike a balance in their work between traditional national characteristics and fascination for such foreign achievements.

This 1907 painting, "Autumn Among Trees," (the left section of a two-fold screen) by Shimomura Kanzan, is a particularly beautiful case in point. Although it is suffused with an indelibly Japanese atmosphere and an exquisite sensitivity to the subtle differences between seasons, it could not be mistaken for an earlier kind of Japanese painting.

In fact, Shimomura had recently spent two years in Britain, studying European art. In this painting not only did he use some Western paint, he is also more concerned than a traditional Japanese screen painter would have been to paint a "realistic" view of a particular place seen from a single viewpoint.

He does not, however, use the Western convention of linear perspective, so foreign to Japanese art, perhaps because of the nature of his subject. His tree trunks are shown to be nearer or farther from the picture plane by simple overlapping. This recession - finally moving away as far as the backdrop of a sky glowing in morning light - is also shown by means of stronger and fainter tones. This is consonant with the spare mystery of the Japanese autumn.

Shimomura was a member of the Japan Art Institute, founded by Okakura Tenshin. "Autumn Among Trees" depicts the woods near Okakura's house in Izura. The painting is featured in an exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, titled "Seasons: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art" (through Oct. 26).

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