The well-known Musée Marmottan in Paris contains the world’s largest and most important collection of paintings by Claude Monet, particularly the famous « Impression Soleil Levant » and of course the
Series of the « Nymphéas ».
_ Claude Monet was not only the impressionist painter that we know but also an early collector of Japanese prints.
A temporary exhibition of his collection was presented at the Musée Marmottan, during the winter and spring season 2006-2007.
Our broadcast is dedicated to this exceptional event.
The collection on show in the Marmottan Museum comprises 231 Ukiyo-E engravings . They were acquired and kept by Monet at his home in Giverny where he had worked since 1883. The Japanese prints, called Ukiyo-E (“paintings of the Floating World”) were discovered by painters who were later known as the French Impressionists.
And we are grateful to Mrs. Marianne Delafond, museum curator and Co-author (together with Geneviève Aitken) of the documented catalogue for this outstanding exhibition, to be our guide. Thanks to her extensive explanations concerning this complex art of the woodblock prints,
of which Claude Monet’s collection is a outstanding selection, we get a deep understanding of this particular technique.
Japanese Printmaking Techniques
When studying the execution of Japanese prints, the first thing to note is the rigorous division of labour. Famous woodblock artists like Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige did not work on the wood themselves. They drew or colored the subject that they wanted to represent. From that point, the woodblock carver chose a piece of hard knotless wood. Onto this smooth surface, he glued the artist’s drawing. Then he transformed the design into a woodcut, carving out everything that was not in the pencil drawing. With a small knife, he incised every line. By cutting and cutting again, the lines which originally had been so easily drawn on paper were gradually shaped into crisp contours.
Although the golden age of the art of print-making was at the end of the eighteenth century and in the first half of the nineteenth, it first started in the fourteenth century. For years, Japanese woodblock prints inspired by Chinese traditions, were only printed in black and white. They were roughly engraved and printed on “washi” paper. By the end of the seventeenth century they were occasionally enhanced by hand with rare colours: bright red similar to the Chinese, red oxide from lead, blue or green and pink from saffron flowers.
By 1765, with an unlimited number of woodblocks, almost any colour could be included. For instance, to create a print where you see eight different colours, the artist had to prepare eight consecutive monochromatic drawings, each one corresponding to a different colour. The artist had to be very imaginative because he did not fully see the work until after all of the superimposed colours had been printed.
The last step: the printer’s work came into the process. After the work of the artist and the block carver was complete, the printer made the prints from the woodblocks with the different colours.
Despite the freedom left to the carver and the printer, it must be strongly emphasized that the artist remained the master of the work, and he alone signed it.
Further on, Marianne Delafond, specialist initially of Claude Monet, enlightens our questions concerning the mutual discovery of these two cultures:
When and how did these two cultures happen to meet?
What was the impulse of the occidental artists in this process?
What sort of inspiration triggered Claude Monet’s passion for these creators of the UKIYO-E, « the paintings of the floating world ».
She informs us on how links can be established between a Japanese printmaking world and that of Claude Monet, as we discover it through his fundamental painting “Impression,Soleil Levant”. Like his famous series of the “Meules” (Haystack)”, his well-known Japanese bridge in Giverny, the Glycines, and notably his Nymphéas. Also keeping in mind Claude Monet as a passionate landscape creator and landscape painter. His “jardin d’eau”(water garden) so exotic, Japan inspired and favourable to dreams. The world of Claude Monet was since ever influenced by this oriental tradition of the philosophical contemplation of the nature.
All these fascinating insights we get to know with Marianne Delafond’s knowledge of Claude Monet’s world penetrating the civilisation of the Land of the Rising Sun.
Knowing more about :
This emission in french Les estampes japonaises de la collection Claude Monet