Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date



The artistic development of Vincent van Gogh displayed pronounced changes after the artist’s arrival in Paris in 1886. His colors became bright and clear; his line became bolder; and his composition tended to be two dimensional. These changes developed more prominently during his Arles period from 1888to 1889. One of the major factors in the transformation of his art may be explained by his involvement in a current vogue in Paris: Japonisme—the appreciation of Ukiyo-e prints.

The purpose of the thesis is to explore the extent of van Gogh’s involvement in Japonisme and to establish the influence of the Japanese print as one of the important sources of inspiration in van Gogh’s artistic evolution. Through this study, a formerly overlooked side of van Gogh’s art is examined, and an understanding of one influence on a significant artist of the nineteenth century is established.

In the thesis, the beginning of van Gogh’s Japonisme is probed and the nature of his early appreciation shown, supported by the evidence from his letters, his art collection, and contemporary periodicals such as L’Art, the Graphic, and Illustrated London News. His third visit to Paris in 1886 proves to be the determining factor in van Gogh’s Japonisme. He became an enthusiast of the Ukiyo-e and became actively involved in the study of the artistic principles of the Japanese print. Samuel Bing and Pere Tanguy were two important sources of van Gogh’s contact with apenese Prints, and Theo an Gogh was more than willing to satisfy his brother’s demand for things Japanese when Vincent was in Arles. Van Gogh’s literary interest is also reviewed to show that van gogh’s image of Japan and its art is furthered by writers or publications such as the Goncourts, Pierre Loti’s Madame Chrysantheme, and Samuel Bing’s Artistic Japan.

The first step in van Gogh’s study of the Ukiyo-e is represented by three paintings after prints of Japanese masters, Kesai Yeisen, and Hiroshige. These Japanese prints, together with van Gogh’s careful tracings, are still extant in the V. W. van Gogh’s collection in Amsterdam. They not only establish van Gogh’s study of the Ukiyo-e, but also reveal van Gogh’s serious attitude. The second step is represented y copies of Japanese prints in the background of his paintings. Though analysis of these copies in comparison to the original Japanese prints in van Gogh’s personal collection, we point out van Gogh’s understanding of Japanese artistic principles at the time of this copying activity.

The effects of van Gogh’s involvement in japonisme manifest themselves especially in his works during the Arles period. Through visual comparisons between van Gogh and selected Japanese masters, we come to a conclusion that the transformation in his composition, his color, and his line found an important source in the assimilation of the art from the Land of the Rising Sun.



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Gabriel Weisberg

Second Committee Member

Douglas George

Third Committee Member

Van Dern coke

Fourth Committee Member

Mary Elizabeth Smith