On the Monet (and the rest) at the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

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MONET SHOT: Close up a dog’s dinner, but step back and the massive canvas reveals subtlety of vision. That Monet was pretty good, eh?

I spent today with my wife at the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno and while much of the permanent collection was not on show to make way for the frankly not-very-good works of a visiting collection by some cubist architect chap whose name I forget, enough of the masters were on the walls to make the trip to downtown Tokyo worth it.

What I noticed today was how much van Gogh was influenced by the impressionists. I know the books always say that, but I couldn’t really feel it when looking at his paintings, they seemed such radical departures from the likes of Monet, Renoir and so on.

But today, I think I finally got the link. The brushstrokes, the apparent lack of attention to detail, and the willingness to throw colour on the canvas in lively, almost slapdash ways, was liberating, especially compared to the austere geometric cubist cold fish being exhibited elsewhere in the gallery. Well, there’s no accounting for taste, of course, but looking at the apparent lack of attention to detail by Cezanne, the blurring of effects by Renoir, the movement in Degas, well… and then you step away from the canvas and it clicks. What was disorder and chaos close up is order and beauty from afar. Now that’s some feat. Pics that grabbed me follow, including the 20th Century ones by Kees van Dongen. Not impressionist, but not bad at all.

Below: Seven great paintings by Monet, followed by a Cezanne, a Degas and then two by van Dongen, all at the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno, Tokyo.

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Patrick Sherriff publishes a monthly newsletter highlighting good fiction about Japan and featuring an original painting or sketch. He lives in Abiko, Japan, with his wife and two daughters.

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