Double Vision Wednesday: James Whistler and Torii Kiyonaga

While in Kyoto for the annual group show that I participate in, I saw the Whistler retrospective at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. James Whistler was heavily influenced by Japanese art, especially ukiyo-e prints. This is obvious in his paintings and prints of bridges and fireworks and in his use of Oriental fans, vases, and brocades as props. I was struck by the similarity between Whistler’s Symphony in White No. 3 and Torii, Kiyonaga‘s The Sixth Month. (Kiyonaga was his given or first name, and Torii was his family or last name.) The two have obvious differences, but remember it only takes an idea for an artist to be inspired.



The print has three women, the painting has two, and the reclining woman is facing in the other direction, but look at the angle of her hip. Now look at the Whistler painting. The kneeling woman is on the left in the print and on the right in the painting. They are different poses but yet very similar. What do you think?

The museum staff pointed out the more obvious influences on Whistler’s work, including his famous peacock room, but noted nothing about this connection other than perhaps implying that the beautiful women (bijin) and flowing robes were similar. I, however, kept looking at one and then back at the other amazed by the similarities.


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