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10.4: Yoga and Nihonga (1870-early 1900s)

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    Paintings in Japan are categorized into Yōga and Nihonga; the categorization permeated every aspect of painting in Japan. Each category had artists, exhibitions, competitions, judges, institutions, and educational curricula. Yōga meant "Western-style painting," aligning with the Western (European) artistic convention in concepts, materials, and techniques. One of the foundational concepts of Western painting is the life-like depiction of the world on a flat surface. Nihonga meant "Japanese-style painting" in the traditional Japanese counterpart of Yōga. For example, Yōga artists used oil on canvas, and Nihonga artists used Sumi ink and water-based paint on washi paper or silk. Established during the era of modernization in nineteenth-century Japan, these two categories contrasted and defined each other. In the world of modern Japanese painting, neither existed without the other.

    The opening of Japan in 1854, the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1867, and the Meiji Restoration in 1868 intensified the dialogue between Japan and the West. Japan was anxious about foreign imperialism. Meiji officials understood Japan's independence was only safeguarded through rapid modernization in technology and industry.[1] Japan needed to be more like the Western world to prevent colonization. In the early Meiji period (the last half of the nineteenth century), Japan was modernizing rapidly in its aspiration to become more like the West. The art world was fueled with the same energy within this historical context that Yōga and Nihonga were born. 

    Yoga Artists:

    • Yuichi Takahashi (1826-1894)
    • Seiki Kuroda (1866-1924)
    • Aoki Shigeru (1882-1911)
    • Keiichiro Kume (1866-1934)
    • Takeji Fujishima (1867-1943)
    • Chū Asai (1856-1907)

    Nihonga Artists:

    • Kanō Hōgai (1828-1888
    • Shunsō Hishida (1874-1911)
    • Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958)


    Yōga represented Japan's more diverse artistic part, gravitating towards the West. In Yōga, Japanese artists painted or drew in Western style. They used techniques and materials in European art, such as oil paint on canvas, ink, pastels, and watercolor. The goal was to create a Renaissance-based, realistic picture on a flat 2-dimensional surface. They perfected the skills of linear and atmospheric perspectives, shading, and color-mixing to mimic the natural world. European or American instructors were invited to teach in Japan, and some Japanese artists went to study in France. As art students in the second half of the nineteenth century, Japanese artists encountered Academism, Realism, and Impressionism and trained in those styles. After their training, they brought the concepts back to Japan, and the styles influenced the establishment of Yōga.

    The tendency toward image-making in Western style was not a sudden event that started when Japan opened up to the world in 1854. Even when Japan was still a closed country in the eighteenth century, some artists were already studying a Western mode of pictorial representations, such as linear perspective. Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e), including Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), demonstrated the concept. The fame of the Great Wave off Kanagawa print and Nihonbashi in Edo (10.4.1) from the series 36 Views of Mt. Fujidemonstrate Hokusai's knowledge of linear perspective. In the Nihonbashi print, the rows of houses flanking the river recede uniformly and accurately, taking the viewer's eyes towards the vanishing point at the Nihonbashi bridge.

    several people in a boat on a canal with houses on both sides
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Nihonbashi in Edo from series 36 Views of Mt. Fuji (1830-1832) (Public Domain)

    At the beginning of the Meiji era (1868 – 1912), the government was very anxious to emulate the West in every aspect of Japanese society and culture. Art academies and technical schools were established to facilitate the goal. Technical Fine Art School (Kobu Bijutsu Gakkō) in 1876 was the first government school to teach Japanese students Western art and design techniques.[2] Three Italian instructors, including Antonio Fontanesi, were hired for painting and drawing. Although he was only in Japan for two years (1876-1878), Fontanesi introduced the next generation of Japanese artists to Western media, such as charcoal, pastels, and oil paint. Fontanesi taught the foundation of 2-dimensional arts, including anatomical studies, linear and atmospheric perspectives, painting and sketching from live models, and en-plain air painting.

    In the 1880s, there was a backlash against the intense Westernizing energy of the early Meiji period, and the pendulum swung towards the appreciation of Japanese traditions in art. Nihonga, or Japanese-style painting, resulted from the revival. Yōga fell out of favor, and the 7-year-old Technical Fine Art School closed in 1883. These events demonstrate the duality in Japanese painting, fluctuating between Japanese tradition and Westernization in search of its modern identity.

    Yoga Art

    An introduction to the yōga art style, a Japanese term which can be translated “Western painting”.


    Takahashi Yuichi 

    Takahashi Yuichi (1826-1894) was from Edo, Japan, and was part of a samurai-class household of the Sano Domain that ruled the area. Yuichi was interested in art as a child and learned about Western-style art from lithographs. He was able to study under one of the artists working in the research institute to learn Western methods. Yuichi did not have a formal degree; he was only self-taught; however, he was appointed as a professor of art at an art school. Yuichi is believed to be the first "Western painter" who used European-style methodology and oil painting. He generally focused on landscape and portraiture paintings and some still life. Because of his interest in Western-style art, he started a painting school and published magazines about the subject. 

    Salmon (10.4.2) is one of Yuichi's more famous paintings. The fish hangs by a rope, and part of the flesh is removed. The fish's body and head are painted and textured with thick paint and visible brushstrokes. The cut section and tail are more loosely painted. Yuichi used some aspects of chiaroscuro with a dark background and the light shining on one part.  

    a salmon on a hook
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Salmon (circa 1877, oil on paper, 46.5 x 140 cm) (public domain)

    Kuroda Seiki 

    Considered the father of Yōga, Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924) was the most successful and influential advocate of this painting category. It was primarily under Seiki's leadership that Yōga moved toward a viable position in modem Japanese art in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Returning from Paris in 1893, Seiki took a leading role in revitalizing Yōga, which was out of favor in the 1880s. Seiki brought back with him a style based on Plein-air Impressionism. Kuroda's paintings were generally well-received by the Japanese audience. His accomplishment was an inspiration and point of departure for many influential Yōga artists of his generation and beyond. More than a transplantation of foreign formal elements, the establishment of Seiki's approach signaled the liberation of artistic freedom for Yōga artists working in an oppressive academic manner. Seiki successfully brought Yoga to a broader Japanese public because he infused Japanese elements into the surface depth of perceived Western-style oil paintings. Seiki's pictorial representation, choice of subject matter, and call for artistic freedom (in the face of strict academic naturalism) contain aspects reverberating with Japanese aesthetics.

    The life and work of Kuroda

    Kuroda Seiki (黒田清輝? August 9, 1866 – July 15, 1924) was the pen name of a Japanese painter and teacher, known for bringing Western theories of art to the Japanese public. He was one of the leaders of the yōga (or western style) movement in late 19th and early 20th century Japanese painting. His real name was Kuroda Kiyoteru, who uses an alternate pronunciation of Chinese characters.


    A Maiko is an apprentice geisha. This Maiko (10.4.3) is dressed in an elegant kimono as she sits by the window and appears to be speaking to the girl by her. Outside, the Kamo River runs by the window. Seiki spent nine years studying in France, and when he returned, he went to Kyoto. When he saw the traditional scenes of the area, he stated,  "There is nothing like Maiko in Gion-cho (Gion district in Kyoto) in the world. I found them truly beautiful."[1]Although the woman is dressed in typical Japanese clothing, Seiki used Western-style methods for the painting. His brushstrokes are visible, and the canvas is filled without any blank space. The women are the central part of the scene, supported by the abstracted river and seating area. 

    two women dressed in ornate robes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Maiko (1893, oil on canvas, 80.4 x 65.3 cm) (public domain)

    Lakeside (10.4.4) is probably one of the most famous Japanese paintings based on Western-style. At a glance, there is nothing extraordinarily spectacular about the painting. The subject matter of Lakeside is rather conservative: a traditional beauty in her light summer kimono (yukata), contemplating nature as she sits by the lake. The painting is rather soothing in its tranquility; the harmonious blue tonality complements the complexion of her skin and the white fan she holds against her breast. Seiki used the method of filling the canvas without any negative space. Despite using oil paint and visible brushstrokes, the painting conveys a feeling, theme, and mood entirely Japanese, and why Lakeside enjoys its success in the history of modern Japanese art.

    Woman in blue robe holding a fan sitting next to a lake
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Lakeside (1897, oil on canvas) (Public Domain)

    Seiki's choice of subject matter – a woman in a traditional outfit -- resonates with the Japanese tradition of bijin-ga. The term means "image of beautiful women," a subject that recurs throughout Japanese art history. "Bijin" refers to traditionally clothed and adorned beauties. The immediate origin of modem bijin-ga is found in genre painting popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the Edo/Tokugawa period (1603-1867), the lineage of bijin-ga was maintained primarily by ukiyo-e artists such as Torii Kiyonaga and KitagawaUtamaro. The favorite subjects were courtesans from the pleasure quarters or local beauties in various activities. There is a parallel between Torii Kiyonaga's print Enjoying the Evening Cool on the Banks of the Sumida River (10.4.5) and Lakeside. They both offer candid images of ladies captured unaware as they enjoy the natural beauty of their environment and the cooling breeze in the summer heat. The woman in the middle of Torii Kiyonaga's print is similarly silhouetted against the landscape, as Kuroda's subject does.

    Since bijin-ga is a revival of archaic and native subject matter, it is typically not expected to be found in Yōga as the modern and Westernized vehicle of expression. Although it may seem ironic, the most critically acclaimed Yōga masterpiece – Seiki's Lakeside – is essentially a bijin-ga cloaked in the medium of oil in a naturalistic Western-style rendering. It is perhaps more instructive to see its success was due to its ability to synthesize traditional Japanese and Western visual idioms in one artwork.

    Six women strolling on the beach wearing brightly colored dresses
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Enjoying the Evening Cool on the Banks of the Sumida River (1784) (Public Domain)

    Shigeru Aoki

    Shigeru Aoki (1882-1911) was born in Northern Japan, where the family was part of the samurai clan. Aoki's father did not support his interest in art, and Aoki left home when he was seventeen to study art in Tokyo. He studied with different artists. The government selected one of the artists to bring Western-style painting to Japan, and Aoki adopted the style. Aoki's paintings were based on mythological and maritime themes. Gift of the Sea was one of his first paintings to be exhibited, and he won the Hakuba Award for his work. Aoki painted Paradise Under the Sea and entered it into the Tokyo Industrial Exhibition in 1907. He was only awarded third prize for the painting, and upset, he returned home at the same time as his father died. He stayed home and did not return to the art world. Unfortunately, he died at age twenty-eight from tuberculosis, never realizing his dream. Although his career was short, he is considered one of the top painters. 

    In A Gift of the Sea (10.4.6), several men have been fishing with spears in the ocean and are carrying their successful catch of three sharks back to the village. The canvas is filled with the people and fish from top to bottom. The darkening sky, blue ocean, and pale sand act as backdrops to the happy, tired fishermen. Aoki used a darkened palette for the painting, with browns, grays, and reds forming the ten nude figures. "The superb conceptual power and bold style of that painting attracted great interest, evoking a strong response, including arguments over whether it was finished or not."[2]

    several men carrying large fish
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): A Gift of the Sea (1904, oil on canvas) (Public Domain)
    Fruits of the Sea

    Welcome to our video about the life and work of Aoki Shigeru, a Japanese artist who represented the Romanticism movement of Japanese painting during the Meiji period.


    Paradise Under the Sea (10.4.7) recreates a Japanese story of the Prince Fire-fade and his love for the God of the Sea's daughter. The bottom half of the painting has a tree trunk in the middle of the scene, with the tree top filling the background at the top. Two women are standing and holding a vase between them, bringing balance, and the three figures form a triangle. The colors are muted; however, the blue dress, red dress, and yellow light at the top again form a triangle using primary colors. Like Aoki’s other painting, there is little empty space, and his feathery brush strokes are similar to those of the Impressionist style. Aoki used a Japanese theme to create the Western style of art. 

    two women standing holding an urn
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Paradise Under the Sea (1907, oil on canvas, 180.0 x 68.3 cm) (Public Domain)

    Kume Keiichiro

    Kume Keiichiro (1866-1934) and his family lived in Tokyo, where his father was a historian. Keiichiro attended an exhibition in Tokyo when he was fifteen and was exceptionally impressed and excited by Western-style art, deciding that was what he wanted to pursue. Keiichiro was able to attend the Académie Colarossi in Paris. When he returned to Japan, he associated with other Yōga style artists and taught at the Tokyo University of the Arts. 

    Keiichiro's painting, An Island Brehat (10.4.8), exemplifies his conversion to the Impressionist, Realist painting style. The entire canvas is covered with solid and bold sections anchored in the middle with the oversized pile of stone island. On one side are more rocky sections of the shore eroded over time by the sea, balanced on the other side by the distant cliffs marking the sea's opening. Keiichiro used paint-filled brushstrokes to create loose colors for the sky, sea, and cliff. In the rocky sections, he added more detail and specific lines to define the craggy rock. Picking Apples (10.4.9) also reflects the European theme Keiichiro studied in Europe. Reminiscent of a Dutch scene, the building is made from stone blocks with shutters, not a Japanese type of building. The girls are also dressed in European-style clothing. Keiichiro painted a diagonal pathway across the painting for the girls to walk on. Even the tree and shrubs below the tree are European, demonstrating his interest in the experimental Yōga type of art. 

    a large rock in the ocean
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): An Island Brehat (1891, oil on canvas, 41 x 62 cm) (Public Domain)
    two people picking apples
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Picking Apples (1892, oil on canvas) (Public Domain

    Fujishima Takeji 

    Fujishima Takeji (1867-1943) was born in a samurai-class house in southern Japan. He studied art in middle school and then went to Tokyo for further education. Takeji was fascinated with Western-style painting techniques and focused his education and work on Yōga style. He studied in France before returning to Japan as a professor at the Tokyo Art School. In 1937, the Japanese government created the Order of Culture Award to honor significant contributors to the arts, and Takeji was one of the award's first recipients. Butterflies (10.4.10) were painted in a more art nouveau style, with each butterfly detailed and stylized. The young girl smells a flower, and instead of the one or two butterflies usually found in the flowers, Takeji fills the scene with butterflies of all types. In the bottom foreground, an oversized bee sips nectar from an orange blossom. He used a dark green background, the girl's profile shining against the deep color. 

    The island of Awajishima was a common place for summer vacation homes. Here, the straits are the narrowest between the island and the mainland. Takeji developed a passion for landscapes and went to the area to paint a Distant View of Awajishima (10.4.11). In the painting, he added Western-style homes on the slope, nestled in the fields. He rendered the sea as flat, a simple rendition. No waves exist, and the sailboats in the distance appear still, without wind to move them. Takeji used the opposing shore to divide the sea and sky. However, he also made the sky a bright sunset orange instead of the blue sea. Both areas appear to be painted with flat brushstrokes, leaving the detail of the picture on the side of the water with the houses. 

    woman kissing butterflies
    Figure \(\PageIndex{10}\): Butterflies (1904) (Public Domain)
    houses overlooking the ocean
    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Distant View of Awajishima (1929, oil on canvas, 729 x 530cm) (Public Domain)

    Asai Chū 

    Yōga was expected to depict the representation of the reality of the time. Asai Chū (1856-1907) was born in Tokyo, drawing as a child. He attended art school, where he learned about Western-style painting. Later, he established a group of artists who wanted to paint using new methods and became a professor in art school, teaching many of Japan's well-known artists how to bridge traditional techniques and more contemporary methodologies. As an artist, Chū usually used humans performing some sort of farming or other rural-style work in his paintings. Harvest (10.4.12) depicts the ordinary farmer working the land. Browns and greens composed the primary color palette with loose brushstrokes visible in the ground. The painting portrays Japanese farmers' gritty life in the French Barbizon School tradition. 

    The Village of Kotaba (10.4.13) demonstrates Chū's interest in the outdoor influence of the Impressionists, using brushstrokes and color to define the elements in the painting. He placed the trees mid-distance, creating them with strokes of color. The small country road forms a gentle pathway through the middle of the painting, complemented by the horizontal eaves of the buildings. Chū added details about the scale of the people and the items around them. The haze or smoke from the valley and the mountains in the background gives the image depth.

    Three people gathering and harvesting crops
    Figure \(\PageIndex{12}\): Harvest (1890) (Public Domain)
    homes and animals in a yard
    Figure \(\PageIndex{13}\): The Village of Kotaba (1893, oil on canvas) (Public Domain)


    The enthusiasm for everything Western was strong in the early Meiji and lifted the brief excitement for Yoga. However, a movement to return to native values in art was gaining ground in the early 1880s.  The craze for everything Japanese in Western Europe and America (Japonisme) and the popularity of Japanese traditional arts and crafts in international expositions led to the evaluation of Japanese traditional arts and the desire to revive them. In 1878, the Vice-Minister of Education, Kuki Ryuichi, was sent to observe the developments in education and art at the Paris Exposition. He attended the Provincial Congress of Orientalists held in Lyons, France, and was impressed by the depth of knowledge and interest in Japanese art and culture. 

    Returning from Paris, Kuki was convinced that promoting Western-style painting was foolish when Japan possessed a unique artistic tradition as a source of national pride and international prestige. In 1879, Kuki helped establish Ryuchikai (Dragon Pond Society) to capitalize on the foreign interest in Japanese art. He hoped to stimulate greater interest among the Japanese in their artistic heritage and the modern revival of traditional Japanese arts and crafts. Nihonga was the result of this revival.

    Nihonga was used to define a Japanese visual style against other foreign-based approaches, especially Yōga (Western) and Bunjinga/Nanga (Chinese). Its main characteristics are reminiscent of the Yamato-e (Japanese) decorative tradition: well-delineated flat areas of translucent or opaque, bright color plates; the avoidance of rendering form in a realistic treatment of light and shade; and negative space. The effect also incorporated the traditional materials used, such as paper or silk for the surface, Sumi ink, and mineral and vegetable pigments in a binding agent. As in Western oil painting, pigments were not mixed to form a wide range of shades. Consequently, the clarity of colors was preserved, a distinguishing feature of Nihonga even when the later generation of artists attempted the effects of light and shadow. The subject matters of Nihonga revolved around Japanese mythological and historical themes, native landscapes, and Buddhist iconography.

    Why paint Nihonga?

    In this video, Japanese artist Kiyo Hasegawa talks about pros and cons about painting with Nihonga materials (Japanese style painting) while talking about her artworks.


    Kanō Hōgai

    Kanō Hōgai (1828-1888) was the son of a painter, and when he was eighteen, Hōgai was sent to Edo and formally studied traditional Japanese painting. Early in his life, the economy was failing, and he had to do other jobs besides painting. By 1877, Edo was now Tokyo, the economy improved, and he could work for a wealthy family and study Japan's great masters. Hōgai was one of the last Kano artists and helped develop the nihonga style. He was best known for his use of dragons and birds. His work was based on traditional Japanese painting while experimenting with Western ideas. 

    Two Dragons in Clouds (10.4.14) depicts the dragons intertwined, dragons a typical Japanese theme. However, Hōgai used three-dimensionality and foreshortening, demonstrating the integration of Western concepts. The shadows simulate the use of linear perspective and how different lines meet farther from the object than in reality. The dimensional and realistic appearance is quite different than the usual Suiboku-ga (ink painting) style of painting dragons. 

    dragons fighting
    Figure \(\PageIndex{14}\): Two Dragons in Clouds (1885, ink on paper, 90.2 x 135.4 cm) (Public Domain)

    The comparison between Fudō Myōō (10.4.15) by nihonga artist Kanō Hōgai and a painting with a similar subject matter from the 12th century (10.4.16) demonstrates how nihonga reinvents and refreshes traditional Japanese idiom in the nineteenth century. As a protector of Buddhist law, Fudō Myōō is a widely represented guardian figure in the Buddhist Pantheon. The iconography of Fudō Myōō typically includes a muscular figure with a fierce expression equipped with a sword and a lasso. Both paintings contain the same iconography; Kano has stylized the musculature of his figure to approximate the medieval version. The difference is that the nineteenth-century Nihonga painting demonstrated an awareness of two things: modeling three-dimensional shapes with shading and perceiving depth. 

    The Nihonga Fudō Myōō is placed at a three-quarter view, immediately giving the painting a depth the frontal 12th-century image does not have. He sat on a rock between clearly delineated rocks in the foreground and subtle hints of rock formation beyond it. The "layers" of foreground, midground, and background create the idea of depth inside the picture plane the way Renaissance painting did. Although the figure is clearly outlined, there are subtle highlights and shadows in the face, arms, torso, calf, and red drapery, creating a missing volume in the 12th century Fudō Myōō figure.

    The illusion of depth and sense of volume are typical features of naturalistic Western painting. Kanō Hōgai used the subtlety of the techniques, only apparent with a more profound analysis. To counteract these Western characteristics, the background and the area surrounding the central figure are empty. This void relates to negative space, the signature characteristic of Japanese paintings. Nihonga is a hybrid invention of modern times, a synthesis of Western and traditional Japanese visual elements.

    Man sitting on a stone holding a sword
    Figure \(\PageIndex{15}\): Fudō Myōō (1887) Public Domain
    A man standing and holding a sword
    Figure \(\PageIndex{16}\): Fudō Myōō (12th-century copy of 9th century original at Onjōji.) Public Domain

    Hishida Shunsō 

    Born in Nagano Prefecture, Hishida Shunsō (1874-1911) moved to Tokyo to study at the Kanō school, followed by the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. After graduation, Shunsō taught and traveled to the United States and Europe. He began experimenting with the Nihonga style with graduated colors and softer edges. Fallen Leaves (10.4.17 & 10.4.18), a quiet, lyrical painting by Shunsō, demonstrated the relationship between naturalism, an illusion of depth, and the use of negative space in Nihonga. Another element of the Japanese tradition of the painting is its format; the images were painted on a pair of 6-panel free-standing folding screens. Known as "byōbu," the screen functioned as a movable room partition while the painting acted as an interior decoration. It was a popular furniture item in the home of high-ranking samurais. 

    The screen featured a pine sapling with green leaves. Across the horizontal surface, Shunsō painted leaves, tree trunks, and birds, creating an asymmetrical composition with the negative space on the right contrasted with the area filled with tree trunks on the left. The tree trunks in the foreground were painted with meticulous naturalism, a detailed rendering of the bark and leaves, demonstrating Shunsō's observation of the world around him. The detailed textures of the tree trunks gradually lessen as the trees become smaller, indicating the illusion of depth. The background on the right side of the image is mainly empty, balancing the relative fullness of distant trees to the left. The space is indeterminate as Shunsō simply left it unpainted, leaving the viewers' imagination to complete the image. 

    Negative space balanced the space filled with tree trunks to indicate depth.  In the foreground, a green sapling anchors the painting as its focal point, its green leaves standing out against the surrounding beige, brown, and orange colors. Two tiny birds peer among the fallen leaves, completing the composition. Hishida synthesized and balanced Japanese and Western painting styles; nature lived harmoniously in the painting.

    Closeup of trees with leaves on the ground

    Closeup of trees with leaves on the ground

    Figure \(\PageIndex{17}\): Fallen Leaves (1909) (Public Domain)
    Figure \(\PageIndex{18}\): Fallen Leaves (Public Domain)

    Yokoyama Taikan

    Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958) was the son of a samurai when he was born in Mito City, Japan. In high school, he studied the English language and was interested in the ideas of Western painting. Taikan taught for a few years at the art schools before traveling to India, the United States, and European capitals. When he returned to Japan, he worked to revive the Japan Fine Arts Academy, helping young artists start their careers. Taikan was very instrumental in developing the Nihonga methodology. Working with Hishida Shunsō, they created a distinctive style without lines and a concentration of softer and more blurred images. Taikan became known for his work in monochrome ink and how he mastered diverse tones. 

    Taikan continually used Mount Fuji as the basis for his paintings. Snowy Peak with Cranes (10.4.19) is an example of how he used the mighty mountain as a background for elegant cranes flying in the foreground. The mountain has no hard lines or edges; the soft blended colors form the mountain sitting in front of an explosive sky that appears as sunset. The sky blends oranges, grays, whites, blues, and other subtle colors. Only the cranes are distinctively painted, their small forms visible before the massive background. The cranes are so small that they may become lost in the painting, except Taikan used a completely blended background in juxtaposition to the detailed cranes. 

    snowy peak with white cranes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{19}\): Snowy Peak with Cranes (1958, color on silk) (Public Domain)

    The difference between Nihonga and Yoga painting styles is reflected in the two paintings, Towing a Boat (10.4.20) by Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958) and Withered Field (10.4.21) by Kuroda Seiki. In Towing a Boat, the water and rocks are painted in the Nihonga style using the more obscure method; the colors defining the shapes are flattened, and the wood and stones do not have the typical outlines of Nihonga.  However, the image is traditional, the power of nature apparent, and the smooth, flat brushstrokes help create space. The water flows down the mountain into the river in typical Japanese style. The negative space is consumed by fog, which expresses the moisture in the air while creating the usual negative space. Yokoyama was ridiculed; however, his changes helped modernize Japanese paintings. 

    The Withered Field followed pleinaire techniques, painted outside, and every part of the canvas was filled with bold and broad brushstrokes and color to create the illusion of grasses. Kuroda filled the space in typical Yōga style. The sky covered the canvas from side to side, dark and ominous as the storm approached. The mountains bisect the canvas, a field of grasses formed from broad brushstrokes and mixed colors, following the Impressionist style, which influenced Yōga techniques.

    Four men towing a boat up a river near a big waterfall
    Figure \(\PageIndex{20}\): Towing a Boat (1901, color on silk, 68.6 x 139.4 cm) (Public Domain)
    A landscape of wild grasses
    Figure \(\PageIndex{21}\): Withered Field (1891, oil on canvas, 49.3 x 65.0 cm) (Public Domain)



    [1] Vos, F., "Waken Yosai - Japanese Spirit and Western Achievements" in Schaap, R (ed.), Meiji: Japanese Art in Transition, Leiden: Haags Gemeentemuseum, 1987, 15-16.

    [2] Yoshinori Amagai, "The Kobu Bijutsu Gakko and the Beginning of Design Education in Modern Japan," Design Issues 19(2), MIT Press, 35.