Van Gogh and Japan review – from strange obsession to lasting impression

This illuminating documentary examines the influence of Japanese art on the post-impressionist’s paintings

An illuminating film about Vincent van Gogh’s interest in Japanese art, and how it influenced and affected his own work. Deriving from a 2018 exhibition at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, it is possibly something of a niche subject for a full-length documentary; but it demonstrates again how that clutch of impressionist and post-impressionist artists are just gravy to galleries and film-makers.

By getting interested – or as one learned commentator here says, obsessed – with Japanese print-making, Van Gogh was not especially unique: “Japonisme” was a growing cultural force in France in the second half of the 19th century. Van Gogh, according to the various academics and curators interviewed here, took it all more seriously than most, elaborating a set of both philosophical and aesthetic ideas from Japanese art – mostly woodblock prints in the ukiyo-e manner – he had access to. The resemblance between Van Gogh’s thickly coloured, expansively organised paintings and the exquisitely controlled work he admired is not always apparent, but the interviewees go into considerable detail.

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