Impressionist artists are known for their distinctive subject matter, including everyday iconography like scenes of nature and candid portraits. While this approach is quintessentially characteristic of the movement, it actually has roots in Japanese prints.
Tell-tale title aside, Monet’s iconic collection of Japanese Bridge depictions clearly references Ukiyo-e scenes of everyday life, while Edgar Degas’ signature series of women at la toilette is undoubtedly inspired by the voyeuristic depictions of bathing women frequently found in Japanese prints.
In addition to sharing similar subject matter, Impressionist paintings and Japanese woodblock prints also showcase a unique approach to perspective. Often, the viewer’s vantage point is from above and positioned at a slight angle.
This allows us to see scenes in their entirety, almost as if they are set on a theatrical stage and we are observing from the audience.
While it seems like employing such a fascinating perspective would result in dimensionality, typically, woodblock prints’ compositions are quite flat, with solid planes of color and bold lines taking precedence over realism. Though some Impressionist artists did not follow suit and instead opted for a sense of depth, some, like Mary Cassatt, embraced this aesthetic.
When combined with the similarities in subject matter and likeminded approach to perspective, this fascinating flat aesthetic perfectly captures the distinctive look and feel of Japanese woodblock prints.