BC. Laurence Binyon

23. Landscape in English Art and Poetry. Tokyo: Kenkyusha, 1930. Reprint, London: Cobden-Sanderson, 1931.

Lectures Binyon delivered at Tokyo Imperial University in October 1929, during his only trip to Japan. In the first he describes his interest in the country. ‘For years I have dreamed of seeing your country’, he writes. ‘Very long ago when I was young I saw in London a screen-painting of flowers attributed to Sosatsu [probably Nonomura Sôtatsu]. Though I fear it was not really by that great master, I had never seen in European art the glory of flowers so expressed. I fell in love with the art of Japan. Later, I tried in my ignorant way to study and interpret to my countrymen the art of your country. Now, if you allow me, I will try to interpret the art of my country to you.’ In the following lectures the Japanese students and faculty to whom Binyon speaks get more comparisons between English and Japanese painting and poetry than Binyon’s English and American readers had received in thirty years of publications. The lectures touch on many subjects, but commentaries here address only those concerned directly with Japan. Throughout the lectures Binyon draws examples freely and eloquently from the Japanese literary and aesthetic tradition. He suggests in the preface that he made allusions to Western subjects ‘as plain as possible’ for his audience listening in a foreign language, but one wonders how many were able fully to appreciate his frequent and fluent allusions to their own tradition. 200 copies of a catalogue of the paintings Binyon brought with him from the British Museum were published as Catalogue of the Loan Collection of English Water-Colour Drawings [sic] Held at the Institute of Art Research, Ueno, Tokyo, October 10-24th, 1929 (Tokyo: Kenkyusha, 1929), with a note by Taki Seiichi (Ap) and text by Binyon.

a. Lecture 1. Discusses reasons for the later development of landscape painting in Europe than in China and Japan; contrasts the European Reformation, in which medieval art was destroyed, with Zen reform in Japan, in which art flourished.

b. Lecture 2. Comparison of Japanese and English gardens; describes the ‘amateur English water colourists’ of the eighteenth century as ‘a kind of English Bun-jin-gwa’ (bunjinga, Chin.: wen jen hua), literary men’s painting.

c. Lecture 3. Describes Turner’s ‘affinities with Japanese art’, though notes that the latter was not known in Europe during Turner’s lifetime (1775-1851); describes as well Wordsworth’s ‘resemblances to Zen thought and the landscape of Sung and Ashikaga’, i.e. Sung China and Japan during the Ashikaga shogunate (1338-1573); both observations were made later and more famously by R. H. Blyth (Ap) in Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics (see also 9).

d. Lecture 4. Discusses the work of Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) as ‘the nearest [European] counterpart to . . . Ukiyo-ye’ (ukiyoe), and calls attention to ‘Blake’s affinities with Oriental thought and art’.

e. Lecture 5. Compares depictions of the movement of water in Turner and Ogata Kôrin (Ap).

f. Lecture 6. Contains a knowledgeable account of the influence of Japanese art, especially ukiyoe, in the work of Impressionist painters, and compares Whistler (Ap) with Hiroshige (Ap); ukiyoe ‘revealed to [European artists] a new kind of balance of forms, a new method of spacing, a new simplicity of motive. It was characteristic of European painting in the 19th century to accumulate fact upon fact. . .  . How refreshing then were these colour-paints, for which a single motive and a few colour-blocks were sufficient! The influence of Japan was a liberating influence.’





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