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Shirakaba and Japanese Modernism

Art Magazines, Artistic Collectives, and the Early Avant-garde

Erin Schoneveld

Shirakaba and Japanese Modernism examines the most significant Japanese art and literary magazine of the early twentieth century, Shirakaba (White Birch, 1910–1923) and its founder, the Shirakaba-ha (White Birch Society). Erin Schoneveld's book explores the fluid relationship that existed between the different types of modern visual media, exhibition formats, and artistic practices embraced by the Shirakaba group. It provides a new comparative framework for understanding how the avant-garde pursuit of individuality during this period stood in opposition to state-sponsored modernism and how this played out in the emerging media of art magazines and artistic collectives. Schoneveld argues that the Shirakaba group and Shirakaba magazine’s embrace of Post-Impressionism through the life and work of artists such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin offered them a key rhetorical strategy in the evolving discourse of modern Japanese art. Their strategic alignment with artists who they believed represented the revolutionary aesthetics of individualism and artistic self-expression during the early twentieth century assisted in concretizing Shirakaba’s own humanist ideology. Schoneveld analyzes key moments in modern Japanese art and intellectual history by focusing on the Japanese artists most closely affiliated with the Shirakaba magazine, including Takamura Kōtarō, Umehara Ryūzaburō, and Kishida Ryūsei. Drawing upon extensive archival research that includes numerous articles, images, and exhibitions reviews from the Shirakaba, as well as a complete translation of Yanagi Sōetsu’s seminal essay, “The Revolutionary Artist” ( Kakumei no gaka), Schoneveld demonstrates that, contrary to the received narrative that posits Japanese modernism as merely derivative, the debate around modernism among Japan’s early avant-garde was lively, contested, and self-reflexive.
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Erin Schoneveld

This essay examines the role of Shirakaba (White Birch, 1910-1923) as an art magazine that aspired to create new audiences and foster the exchange of ideas by providing an alternate space to address diverse views about modern art, literature, theory, and identity. In addition to introducing European modernism to Japan through the writings of western artists, authors, and thinkers, Shirakaba created access to and direct exchange of artwork with a number of artists such as Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Heinrich Vogeler (1872-1942), Max Klinger (1857-1920), and Bernard Leach (1887-1979). Among these, Shirakaba’s transnational dialogue with the French sculptor Auguste Rodin was the most significant. I argue that Shirakaba’s discourse with Rodin not only facilitated new forums for the public access and display of modern art in Japan, but also was emblematic of its humanist ideology rooted in artistic subjectivity and self-expression.

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“The Most Passionate of All”

Henri Vever and Japonisme in fin-de-siècle France

Willa Z. Silverman

Known primarily as a jeweler in the vanguard of Art nouveau and an important collector of the Impressionists, Henri Vever (1854-1942), as his private diaries make clear, was also a foremost connoisseur of Japanese art in fin-de-siècle France, “the most passionate of all,” to Edmond de Goncourt. Well-connected to networks of dealers, museum officials, publications, and sites of sociability such as the dîners japonais, Vever figures among the most prominent members of a second wave of Parisian enthusiasts of Japanese art, active from approximately 1880 to 1900. Under the tutelage of the Japanese art dealers Hayashi Tadamasa and Siegfried Bing and the fine art printer Charles Gillot, Vever constituted a renowned collection of not only Japanese prints but also other art objects previously disregarded by collectors. Vever’s multiple and intersecting identities as luxury craft producer, leading member of professional associations, art historian and critic, collector, and Republican mayor placed him at the forefront of efforts to legitimate the collection and appreciation of Japanese art in France. His diaries also underscore the connections between the worlds of Japanese and Impressionist art collectors, and between proponents of japonisme and Art nouveau. Further, they highlight the importance of the 1900 Paris Exposition universelle as a triumphant moment for japonisme in France, just as they signal the shift on the part of some japonisants, at the same time, from Japanese art towards the decorative arts of the Islamic world.

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Exhibition: Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscovered

Washington D.C., Freer Gallery of Art, April 8 – July 9, 2017.

Annika K. Johnson

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Markéta Hánová

Prague-born painter and graphic artist Emil Orlik (1870-1932) made his first visit to Japan in 1900 to get acquainted with the woodblock printing technique as well as everyday life there. During his stay, he not only created ink drawings, watercolors, pastels, and gouaches, but also took the opportunity to collect Japanese art, including ukiyo-e prints. These were eventually included in an exhibition in 1902, which traveled to Brno and Prague after its premiere in Dresden and Berlin. Besides promoting a broader awareness of Japan and its traditional culture to Prague and its artistic milieu, the exhibition also testified to Orlik´s discernment as a collector.1

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Karen M. Gerhart

Women, Rites, and Ritual Objects in Premodern Japan, edited by Karen M. Gerhart, is a multidisciplinary examination of rituals featuring women, in which significant attention is paid to objects produced for and utilized in these rites as a lens through which larger cultural concerns, such as gender politics, the female body, and the materiality of the ritual objects, are explored. The ten chapters encounter women, rites, and ritual objects in many new and interactive ways and constitute a pioneering attempt to combine ritual and gendered analysis with the study of objects.
Contributors include: Anna Andreeva, Monica Bethe, Patricia Fister, Sherry Fowler, Karen M. Gerhart, Hank Glassman, Naoko Gunji, Elizabeth Morrissey, Chari Pradel, Barbara Ruch, Elizabeth Self.

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Unintentional Cooperation

The Friendship Doll Mission and the Inescapable American Image of the Kimono-clad Little Japanese Girl

Terry Kita


This study of the Friendship Doll Mission of 1926-1927 shows how, in the United States, the Japanese doll was part of the inescapable image of a kimono-clad little Japanese girl, and functioned to further existing anti-Japanese implications of that image. It further shows how an American popular-culture mission to improve relations with Japan by having American children exchange dolls with Japanese children, created an official, Japanese government response that presented the United States with Japanese dolls that were objects of Fine Art. Despite the different views of the Doll Mission in Japan and the US, an interchange resulted that, now nearly a century later, continues. The article uses Japanese dolls to demonstrate how genuine cultural exchange can occur even when the methods, approaches, and the very intent of those involved in it differ, in order to highlight the importance of considering both perspectives to understand phenomena such as Japonisme.