Instytut Historii Sztuki <Posen> [Editor]
Artium Quaestiones — 14.2003

Page: 200
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In the composition of Hiroshige’s woodcut one may distinguish three complementary
structures determined by shapes, the relations of light, and the distribution of color. The
original order of the work’s perception, leading from the preliminary vision to the
cartouches with the text, is continued by the the women’s kimonos in the foreground, to
bring the spectator-reader within the space delineated by the Japanese artist. The
painting consists of a number of elements which Hiroshige used as if they had been words
in a poem. The desolate bridge, usualły a busy throughfare, the overwhelming grayness of
the neutral, fiat section of the painting, and finally, the paradoxical serenity of the
autumn torrent correspond with the poetic symbolism of rain in haikai. Hiroshige
represents both a situation related to the actual view of Ohashi in autumn, with an
evening torrent, and an inherent, uniąue atmosphere of nostalgia, conveyed by the
Japanese term nazukashi, whose referents include a visual reminiscence of a long
forgotten view. The dominant role of the artist in the view’s presentation - the subjection
of the painting’s reality to his will - is ultimately determined by the chosen vantage point
from the above. Both the artist and the spectator remain outside, concentrating on their
own emotions extrapolated into the space of the painting. Taking a privileged, extemal
position, they decide about its intemal space, conditioning by their moods an
interpretation in which the transient feeling corresponds with the changing view.
Van Gogh had at his disposal a late, most likely at least in part modified copy in which
the scalę of colors had been changed and other alterations introduced. In his own copy, he
magnified the size and added huge green-and-red framing stressing the distance which
separates the artist and, by the same token, the spectator from the painting. The
cartouches with texts that he did not understand, playing no narrative role, lost their
place in the painting, incorporated in the frame as purely decorative elements. Many
changes of color, surface, perspective, and single elements contributed to the
occidentalization of the painting in the course of which "strange" compoments were
changed into "familiar" ones. In the process of interpretation, the coherent structure ofthe
narrativity and poeticity of the painting fell apart already in the beginning, sińce it was
obviously inaccessible to van Gogh. Quite natural for the Dutch painter, the change of the
fiat surface of water in Hiroshige’s woodcut into a complex, moving and flickering texture
of the river in Japonaiserie, ultimately and irrevocably broke the connection between mood
and form, so fundamental for the Japanese painting.
One of the effects of van Gogh’s work on Japonaiserie might have been a change of
perspective organizing his paintings after 1887. His canvasses from the last months of
1887 prove that the basie practical conclusion which he drew from his studies on the
Japanese woodcut was the growing significance of the surface. In terms of color, sińce then
began the Arles style, a techniąue of organizing the pictorial field by vast stretches of pure
color, with the type of brushwork depending on its specific sections. Hiroshige’s method of
subjecting perspective to a given section was thus changed into the subjection of color.
Still, the changes in the treatment of surface and perspective are practical conclusions
which cannot be overrated. As van Gogh knew nothing about the poetics and specific
contexts of the Japanese painting, they are a testimony of intuition, free translation
attempted by the Dutch artist in a situation when any conscious effort was doomed to
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