Van Gogh & Japan: Part 1

“All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art…”

Vincent to his brother Theo from Arles, 15 July 1888
Vincent Van Gogh, Flowering Plum Orchard (after Hiroshige), Van Gogh Museum

What did Van Gogh learn from Japanese prints?

Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo had an extensive collection of Japanese prints. I want to understand how Japanese art changed van Gogh’s painting. Van Gogh Museum states,
“Van Gogh’s encounter with Japanese printmaking played a decisive role in the direction he took as an artist. During his time in Paris (1886–88), he became fascinated by ukiyo-e, nineteenth-century Japanese colour woodcuts, and began to collect them on a large scale.” (1)
Furthermore,  Van Gogh painted Flowering Plum Orchard “after a Japanese print by Hiroshige, from the extensive collection he shared with his brother Theo. Vincent closely followed the composition of Hiroshige, but not the exact colours of the original. The Oriental characters he painted on the frame were derived from a Japanese example, but the text is meaningless and their function is primarily decorative.” (1)
utagawa_hiroshige) jpg (JPEG Image, 2102 × 3200 pixels) - Scaled (30%)
“Flowering Plum Tree”, UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

Hiroshige’s ‘Flowering Plum Tree’

Hiroshige’s ‘Flowering Plum Tree’ is one of the most iconic images from his series.  Van Gogh Museum writes, “The ancient plum tree … had the poetic nickname of ‘the sleeping dragon plum tree’, a name describing the branching via a network of underground roots emerging elsewhere above ground.”

According to Christie’s,

the sky is beautifully rendered in a subtle gradient of white, pink and red, to stunning result. The garden belongs to the Kameido Tenjinsha sanctuary and the plum tree represented here was famous for its unusual shape. Known as Garyuume (resting dragon), it is mentioned in every guide of Edo, but was unfortunately lost during a flood in 1910. The tree is so described in the List of famous places in Edo: “It truly resembles a dragon laying on the ground. The branches intertwined seem to transform into a new trunk. The tree spreads to the left and right. The fragrance of its flowers eclipses that of the orchids, the vibrant white hue of the flowers, pressed tight against each other, ravishes the night.” (2)


Van Gogh was looking for a modern, more decorative style of painting. The Japanese prints became his most important example. What exactly did he learn from the prints? Van Gogh Museum

Summary of Japanese Influences:

  1. Bright, flat areas of color
  2. Bold contour lines
  3. Prominent diagonals
  4. Subjects cut off at edge of painting
  5. Unique use of space: emphasis on foreground and background
  6. High or absent horizon
  7. Zooming up close on details of nature

Click for Image Detail

Slideshow best viewed At Sunnyside

The Van Gogh Museum Exhibit

“With some sixty paintings and drawings by Van Gogh and a large selection of Japanese prints, the exhibition explores the extent of Van Gogh’s admiration for this form of art and the fundamental impact it had on his work.” — Van Gogh Museum

Find out more about Van Gogh and Japan at the Van Gogh Museum .


  1. Van Gogh Museum, Inspiration From Japan, , (accessed 13 Nov 2018).
  2. Christie’s, “Japonisme”, Paris, 15 November 2018, Lot 62, Utagawa Hiroshiga (1797-1858) Kameido Ume Yashiki (Le jardin des pruniers à Kameido) de la série Meisho Edo hyakkei (Les Cent Vues d’Edo)., , (accessed 13 Nov 2018).

Thanks for Visiting 🙂


20 Comments Add yours

  1. This was very informative and helpful. A real eye opener. Loved the video, the way you summarized it and also the grid pictures. Thank you for all your hard work to promote beauty and the arts.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Awww…thanks for such kind words! I really appreciate your comments 🙂


  2. Very informative, Sunny. I don’t recall learning of Japanese influences on his work. The video was brief and spot on.

    What a wonderful reminder: We cannot claim greatness or success for ourselves alone. Others have paved the way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. True words, Rosaliene. I am so happy you liked this. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tanya says:

    Wow never knew the Japanese connection of Van Gogh! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I learned so much writing from this series. It seems many of the artists I love the most had a common admiration for Japanese art. Thanks for visiting, Tanya 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tanya says:

        its news to me as always ,never knew the contributions of Japan in fine arts!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. AKwafrigeria says:

    This is brilliant ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for visiting, AKwafigeria. 🙂


      1. AKwafrigeria says:

        You are most welcome ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  5. stolzyblog says:

    really interesting! and the shamisen music has a parallel starkness to it as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mitchteemley says:

    Fascinating. First I’ve heard about these pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have loved Van Gogh since I was a girl.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for visiting, Anna. ❤️🙂


  8. merryjones says:

    Thanks for sharing useful post.
    hiroshige art

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for visiting, merryjones. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s