Jean Charlot


Madame Baciu asked me to talk to you.  I donÕt know what your major interest is, but some of you probably are not tuned to the visual arts.  So there will be some things, even in a short lecture, that either you donÕt know or that can reaffirm something that you know. 

The title of the lecture, as we concocted it, is tremendous.  It has to do with all the East and West, arts in the East and West, and how they are different and how they are alike.  So donÕt expect that youÕll know everything.  In fact, we could give a lecture probably showing something completely different with the same slides.  It doesnÕt matter.  The slides are in themselves whatÕs important, whatÕs different, and you learn something just by looking at them. 

We know a lot here in Hawai`i.  That is, in a way we are blessed—I donÕt know about the climate––by the fact that East and West really are pretty much part of our daily fare.  The other day, for example, I had a Japanese friend who brought me a Japanese kite.  I donÕt know if you could buy them in New York or Chicago.  I was interested because it was the present-day follow-up of those famous Japanese prints, which in the nineteenth century became the epitome of sophistication.  I think you still can get original Japanese woodcuts in color, very beautiful ones, if you buy a Japanese kite.  And they are not really very expensive.  That is one thing that is pleasant.  I think anybody who eats Japanese cooking is probably ready to understand Japanese art.  Somebody who prefers, as we do here, rice to potatoes––some of us––is more ready to understand the art of Asia than somebody who remains with steak and potatoes.  So itÕs a nice place to be.  I wanted to say that.  I donÕt know why. 

There are tremendous differences between the art of the East and the art of the West.  I was reading the other day something by a second-generation, seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary in Japan.  He said they were terribly sophisticated in so many things––what he meant is that they took baths often, while they didnÕt in Europe––but they donÕt understand anything about the arts, because the pictures they like are just little sketches that nobody here would think even of using as paper, shall we say.  And the pots, the pots they treasure––he was speaking of the tea ceremony––and that for them are priceless, we wouldnÕt know what to do with them unless weÕd use them for a birdbath in a bird cage.  That was a very interesting thing, of course, because he couldnÕt see the point of the Asiatic arts. 

ThereÕs a parallel story––they were always Jesuit missionaries, I donÕt know why––but anyhow that one went to see the Emperor of China.  That was the eighteenth century.  He had brought a rather good English portrait to show him the superiority of European––I should say English culture; he was an English Jesuit––over the Chinese.  So it was one of those portraits with lots of shadows.  One part of the head was black, the other one in the full light.  There was a lovely shadow under the nose of that person.  And the Emperor was amazed and said, ŅWell it looks very, very interesting.Ó  They are polite in China.  ŅVery, very interesting.  But why did the man choose his model when he had a bad cold?Ó 

Well, thatÕs just to show you that there are certain things that we lack understanding of on both sides.  And the first series of the slides will be to show you differences between the East and West. 

Ni Tsan, Landscape Scroll.[2] 

Now IÕve put together in pairs things from the East and things from the West.  Our screen is made for Western arts.  When you have a long scroll with a landscape, you canÕt see it all at once.  I just wanted to show you that the landscape––as the Chinese here understand it––is something to make man small.  A number of treatises on landscape were written at the same time those pictures were painted.  And I like the caution of one of the men who was writing.  He was a painter and a writer too.  He said, ŅRemember that when the mountain is well placed in your picture, if you want a man in the landscape, make him the size of a chickpea.Ó  The size of a chickpea.  I got so interested, I looked for chickpeas.  I found them in Mexico.  Anyhow, it is to make nature, not big, but its own size––which is big––and man small. 

Claude Lorrain, Cleopatra Disembarking at Tarsus, 1642.[3] 

This is a landscape by Claude Lorrain, who is one of the greatest French landscapists.  ItÕs really a pretext to show Cleopatra landing on the shores of something or other.  ItÕs a beautiful landscape.  It has the ocean, it has a sunset.  But itÕs rather interesting that the very large things that are the landscape itself are not mountains, but ruins.  They are Roman ruins.  Why there were Roman ruins in Egypt, I donÕt know.  Anyhow, we have here a landscape in which Claude Lorrain has skipped the problem of man being the size of a chickpea by representing his mountains as man-made.  The architecture on one side, the large ships on the other, the sort of tower in the background––all those things are man-made and as such a praise of man as a big, big thing.  And there are––we canÕt show it all––but there are some nice European landscapes in which it is the mountain that is the size of a chickpea. 

Hui-tsung, Bird on a Branch.[4] 

We go back to China.  ItÕs Emperor Hui-tsung or attributed to Emperor Hui-tsung, around the year 1000 AD.  We have a number of what we could call still lives––that is, small objects––very different from the mountain landscapes, and the point of view is exactly the same as the one that gave to the Chinese those mountain landscapes.  Man is not there.  My first choice for a slide, but it wasnÕt available, is perhaps by the same emperor but is a squirrel on a branch.  And I chose it specially because if you have seen squirrels on a tree, they disappear immediately, go around the trunk, and they are not there.  So with the squirrel we were sure that man was not there, that man was absent.  Here, we have a bird.  The bird is not in a cage––heÕs by himself.  Perhaps here the idea is less definite because the bird is looking at the photographer.  But still, we have things that exist and existed before man was, so to speak. 

Jean-Baptiste Simˇon Chardin, Bread, sausage, and two wine-glasses on a round table.[5] 

French, eighteenth-century.  Still life.  I know that your course is interested in French literature, so painting isnÕt a bad thing to look at to know the French spirit.  Now, this is very, very different from Claude Lorrain, certainly.  It has a completely different idea, but it is also made up of man-made things.  Now, those of you who are not French can look at the bottle of wine and the glass of wine all poured in without going crazy with joy.  And that bread really––by American standards, itÕs shapeless, it lacks its wrappings, waxed paper and all that.  And maybe you donÕt know how good it is.  But in the eighteenth century, when the picture was painted and when it was made for French people to look at, it was a marvelous still life of delicious things, with the common denominator that they were all man-made.  As such it is again in praise of man. 

Japanese narrative scroll. 

I chose one of the illustrations of that famous tale—is it the Genji?––anyhow, it is one of those series of scrolls that alternate the illustrations and the writing, the text.  It has to do with a court lady and what was happening to her perhaps in the 1200s. 

ItÕs rather interesting that first we live in a rectangle, a room, like the rectangle of a picture.  That is one thing this scroll has in common with European painting: we live in a rectangle, a given rectangle.  But here there is a series of strong diagonals that cross the picture, and the rectangle with its architecture of verticals and horizontals is destroyed by that assertion of the diagonals. 

We have in there some lovely things.  There are cushions, there are hangings, there are ribbons that more or less float in the draft in the big hall of the ch‰teau.  It takes a little while to see that something is going on.  ThereÕs a gentleman here.  We know itÕs a gentleman; he has a little beard on, among other things.  And we have a lady, and the lady is hidden, we could say, in so many layers of princely costume, and her hair falls on her costume.  We see just one eyebrow and one eye, just two lines: one thick line, one thin line.  I chose this painting for the relation between man––in this case, man and woman––and the area of the picture.  ItÕs a minimum.  The point is a sort of surprise––those people have been surprised by what we could call nowadays a candid photographer. 

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Apotheosis of Homer, 1827.[6] 

A composition by Ingres, French, nineteenth-century, who has done here something that was called classical in his century and that is so absolutely classical that it becomes nearly a parody of classical composition.  Homer is in the center, seated on a pedestal.  Behind him we have the Parthenon.  If you cut the picture on a vertical, the two sides are identical.  That is, they are facing a spectator.  I spoke of a candid photographer, looking at the Japanese composition.  Here, we have obviously a stage, and we have the last tableau when all the actors come on to take their bows.  The lady behind Homer is Fame, and sheÕs putting a crown of laurels on his head.  Around him, right and left, in that unfocused area, we have the great men that Ingres considered the greatest that had lived––authors, painters, and whatnot.  Raphael was his treasure, and Racine and Boileau and Moli¸re––even Moli¸re––are included in the great writers.  He had put––there is a little blank here, if you look at it––he had put in there Shakespeare.  ThatÕs because he didnÕt know English.  Then a French translation came out.  Ingres read some of the translation and erased Shakespeare. 

T™sh˛sai Sharaku, The Two Kabuki Actors, 1794–1795.[7] 

Again our screen doesnÕt fit our vertical format at times.  Anyhow, it is Kabuki, two actors.  I chose Sharaku to show that one of the essentials of Chinese and Japanese art is line.  Of course, here we are in Japanese art, and very late, in the 1790s.  Nevertheless, line is clearly the main means of the Japanese artist, and Sharaku is one of the greatest masters of line.  WeÕll see him again a little later on in relation to Toulouse-Lautrec. 

Honorˇ Daumier, Crispin and Scapin, ca. 1863–1865.[8] 

French, nineteenth-century: Crispin et Scapin, the French stage characters.  It has, of course, line––if you look carefully, thereÕs a good strong line––because Daumier was mostly a graphic artist.  But what you see is the chiaroscuro.  That is, we have the ramp of the theater and the light, which going from down up, naturally gives fantastic modelings to those people.  I wouldnÕt say that they are more complete than the Sharaku heads.  They are as complete.  The means, however, are such that you could let go of line and still have a superb definition of those two people. 

And™ Hiroshige, Landscape. 

A good example of the way a whole school of Japanese artists was able to give a sense of nature––not the Chinese nature, but the more gentle and humane nature of Japan—using very light tones, very light tones.  Later on, weÕll see that the Impressionists looked at those pictures and were astonished because European landscape up to mid-nineteenth-century could be marvelously dark.  They loved dark colors.  It is said that the men of the generation of Monet, even Manet, saw their first Hiroshiges when they went to the grocer.  They would buy something or other that had come from Japan, and it was wrapped up in those prints.  When they unwrapped the woodcut, it was a revelation for them that, for example, a sky could be done in white and pink.  They had never thought of that before. 

Thˇodore Rousseau, A Tree in Fontainebleau Forest, 1840.[9] 

French, Barbizon School.  It must be an early one; it looks a little more like Lorrain.  Showing you again that like the Daumier, we Westerners work with contrasts.  There are colors, of course, if you look carefully.  But the tree, for example, is a big black blob on the sky.  If you look at the Hiroshige trees, with their blossoms and their white flowers against the pink sky, you have a totally different effect.  This is Pre-Impressionist European landscape. 

Japanese Namban Art. 

IÕm showing you now the first reactions of the East to the West, and the West to the East.  That is not what I could call affinities.  That is what I could call mistakes.  You have probably seen at the Academy of Art the show of Namban art.  The Portuguese mostly, who came early to Japan and were, of course, unusual people.  They dressed differently, they acted differently.  The Japanese loved Portuguese noses.  They had never seen anything like that before in their lives.  When I looked at that at the Academy, I started touching my nose.  I said, ŅOh no, that must be a caricature.Ó  But it wasnÕt a caricature.  It was a contact with a race that was at the same time praiseworthy in some things and in others made people slightly uneasy, because to them the Portuguese looked more like monkeys. 

Fran¨ois Boucher, The Chinese Wedding, 1742.[10] 

This is a Chinese imperial wedding by Fran¨ois Boucher, French, eighteenth-century.  He had gotten all he could from China––the parasol, the exotic trees (he put a teapot there)—yet his first representation of China is not much better than the Namban art of the Japanese.  It has perhaps more goodwill; that is, his Chinese are really French people in disguise.  But we cannot speak yet of a true relationship between the arts.  They are first essays. 

James Whistler, Nocturne. 

We come now to some things that were much closer, in fact, very impressively close to the spirit of Oriental art.  This is a Whistler.  I would have chosen one that wasnÕt available, Battersea Bridge.[11]  Whistler had looked at some Japanese prints that were night scenes.  And he—I wouldnÕt say tried his hand, but succeeded in doing those Nocturnes that remain among the most beautiful things.  Those of you who like to make the eagle scream, remember that Whistler is an American.  ItÕs a mighty good, a mighty marvelous achievement that later on will get reworked and rehashed in some of our contemporary abstractions. 

And™ Hiroshige, Obashi Bridge in the Rain, 1856–1858. 

Vincent Van Gogh, Japonaiserie: the bridge, 1886–1888.[12] 

Here are two things: HiroshigeÕs A Rainy Day and a copy of Hiroshige by Van Gogh.  From the way the color is piled up, this is the Van Gogh.  Van Gogh got one of those Hiroshiges and copied it with those juicy brush strokes that are exactly the contrary of anything the Japanese used. 

Vincent Van Gogh, Japonaiserie: courtesan, 1886–1888.[13] 

Van Gogh again imitating somebody—IÕm not sure who—and doing his best.  On the side, some very lovely margins with bamboos and cranes and all the things he could think of, including water lilies.  This is very interesting in relation to Monet, who came only later on to those things.  But anyhow, a heroic attempt on the part of Van Gogh to become a Japanese painter. 

Claude Monet, La Mousmˇ, La Japonaise: Madame Monet in a Kimono, 1876.[14] 

An attempt by Claude Monet, the Impressionist landscape painter, to become a Japanese painter.  Somebody had lent him that embroidery, probably a theatrical robe, and he put the woman in the same position that he had seen in some of the prints.  He painted it his way, of course; he couldnÕt do different.  Probably to suggest that it should be more Japanese, he put all those Japanese fans in the background.  So itÕs a brave attempt, a touching attempt.  ItÕs also a failure. 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde, 1895.[15] 

Some people, like Whistler, did better.  They didnÕt try to copy, they didnÕt try to imitate.  Toulouse-Lautrec, Portrait of Oscar Wilde.  ItÕs a very thin oil on cardboard, so there are no impastos.  And it is line.  Remember the Daumier, which was chiaroscuro.  This is line, and the line is telling as much as the line of Sharaku.  Something that the two of them have equally is that even though the portrait is strong, in a way close to caricature, the line is aristocratic.  There is a sort of an understatement, a minimum lines to tell a maximum things, which is also one of the characteristics of Sharaku. 

Sharaku, The Program Announcer Shinozuka Uraeimon of the Miyako-Za Theatre Reading a Noh Play Announcement, 1794–1795. 

I brought this of Sharaku just to remind you that he can use line as well as Lautrec.  I think they are two masters of equal weight.  There is an old tradition that Sharaku was a Noh actor.  Nowadays people say thatÕs just a fantasy and they donÕt really know anything about him.  But when you look at the lines—you can count the lines, and what minimum lines and what telling lines they are—I believe myself that he was a Noh actor because the whole fashion of gesture in the Noh corresponds exactly to that economy of lines.[16] 

Edgar Degas, The Racecourse, Amateur Jockeys Close to a Carriage, 1876–1878.[17] 

Degas, race horses.  They are not jockeys, they are gentleman jockeys, because Degas was a gentleman.  He wasnÕt speaking to jockeys.  Lautrec did, but not Degas.  There is a carriage, and in the carriage, some of the jockeyÕs family.  I like that because if you compare it with The Apotheosis of Homer, you donÕt have anymore that sense of a stage, that sense of the people facing the public.  This is not in any way Japanese, but it has that same candid camera quality that we have seen in the Japanese illustration, for example, of the court people.  For Degas, who was a great classic, who admired Ingres and the composition of Ingres, it is a tremendous transformation. 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Divan Japonais, 1893. 

The Divan Japonais was a night club where Yvette Guilbert, the lady with the black gloves, was singing.  ItÕs rather nice that the word Japonais is in the picture, because Lautrec here makes use—very wise use—of what he had learned from Japanese woodcuts.  This is a lithograph; itÕs actually a poster that was to be posted on the walls of Paris.  It had to be simple, it had to be striking, and it is one of the most successful, I would say, connections between East and West, like many other works of Toulouse-Lautrec. 

Japanese calligraphy. 

We should have special screens for oriental art.  ItÕs lovely stuff, calligraphy.  It runs really like a mouse would through cheese.  You have that effect of quickness, that effect of not doing it for the public but for the pleasure of the hand and the wrist.  Now this is different from the color woodcuts that we have seen, which were after all popular stuff in Japan: theater posters, bordello posters, and so on.  This was for the Japanese––and is for the Japanese still––a higher form of art than those colored woodcuts.  The Japanese came to the woodcuts because the West admired them.  Happily enough, the Europeans who first saw calligraphy—Oriental, Japanese calligraphy here—could not read it.  Sometimes it has to do with taxes and things of no interest whatsoever.  But when you look at it for the beauty, which is easier for us than for the Japanese, then you really get that impact of what we like to call abstract art nowadays.  Or yesterdays. 

Claude Monet, A Field of Poppies. 

I come back Monet because Monet is one of the Oriental-Occidental hinges.  ItÕs called A Field of Poppies.[18]  If you compare that with La Mousmˇ, which was that Japanese lady who wasnÕt Japanese, there is a tremendous implication of understanding.  He has taken out of Oriental art the parts that are abstract—we have seen a number of those things—and he can now do a landscape without people in it, for example. 

Claude Monet, Water Lilies. 

In the 1920s, Monet had acquired wisdom.  He was by then in his 70s.  Lots of wisdom in the 70s.  He did water lilies—many, many pictures of water lilies.  You can go to the Academy of Art and see one of those late Monets.  And itÕs not a question of seeing it, itÕs a question of using it as a prop for contemplation.  Because thereÕs nothing to see.  You donÕt see the flowers, you donÕt see the leaves, you donÕt see the river, you donÕt see nothing.  And that is the whole point.  That is, you have to meditate, you have to get inside yourself.  And from that point of view, those water lilies of Monet are one of the great turning points between nineteenth-century art and twentieth-century art. 

Georges Mathieu. 

Even the Japanese here canÕt read that.  Because it isnÕt done by a Japanese.  ItÕs done by a Frenchman, Mr. Mathieu, a famous abstract painter.[19]  He came through here.  I saw him.  He had just finished in Japan a great, big abstraction.  He likes to do paintings with everybody watching.  Once he did one on the Middle Ages, and he did it dressed in the armor of an ancient knight.  So in Japan he did his abstraction all dressed up.  IÕm afraid it was a womanÕs kimono.  But anyhow, there he was, working in a womanÕs kimono. 

This is a small thing; itÕs more like a drawing than a painting.  He has tried, and to an extent after all, he has acquired a certain quality that we find in some Japanese calligraphy.  Certainly the circle at the bottom will remind you of some of those Zen pictures.  It is a serious thing, and he means it, and he means it to be meaningless, which makes it even more interesting.[20] 

It is a calligraphy, though using, of course, the Western medium of oil.  Squeezing his tube on the canvas, he gets a different flesh, we could say, a different texture than the Oriental calligrapher.  But it is obvious that heÕs very much impressed by a specifically Japanese calligraphy. 


[1] Slide lecture to the University of Hawai`i French Club;  Mira Baciu, Faculty Advisor.  February 21, 1974. 

Edited by John Charlot.  Not all the works discussed have been identified.  I have used the slide collection of the Art Department, University of Hawai`i, and my recollections of CharlotÕs lectures to identify certain works. 

[2] Ni Tsan, 1301–1374. 

[3] Claude Lorrain, Cleopatra Disembarking at Tarsus, 1642, Louvre, Paris. 

[4] Emperor Hui-tsung, reigned 1100–1125. 

[5] Perhaps Jean-Baptiste Simˇon Chardin Bread, sausage, and two wine-glasses on a round table, Art Institute, Chicago.  Several other paintings could have been used, e.g., (attributed), Still Life, National Gallery, London. 

[6] Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Apotheosis of Homer, 1827, Louvre, Paris. 

[7] T™sh˛sai Sharaku created several double portraits of actors, e.g., The Two Kabuki Actors Bando Zenji and Sawamura Yodogoro, 1794–1795. 

[8] Honorˇ Daumier, Crispin and Scapin, ca. 1863–1865, Musˇe dÕOrsay, Paris. 

[9] Perhaps Thˇodore Rousseau, A Tree in Fontainebleau Forest, 1840, Victoria and Albert Museum. 

[10] Fran¨ois Boucher, The Chinese Wedding, 1742, Musˇe des Beaux-Arts, Besan¨on. 

[11] James Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Gold––Old Battersea Bridge, ca. 1872–1875, Tate, London.

[12] And™ Hiroshige, Obashi Bridge in the Rain, 1856–1858.  Vincent Van Gogh, Japonaiserie: the Bridge, 1886–1888, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. 

[13] Vincent Van Gogh, Japonaiserie: courtesan, 1886–1888, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.  He is copying Keisai Eisan, Courtesan, ca. 1840. 

[14] Claude Monet, La Mousmˇ, La Japonaise: Madame Monet in a kimono, 1876, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

[15] Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde, 1895, private collection. 

[16] Charlot compared the Toulouse-Lautrec to the Sharaku on several occasions.  Once his son Martin used the Sharaku to dispute CharlotÕs view of SharakuÕs economy of line.  Charlot said, ŅYou should have seen the real face.  It was covered with lines!Ó  

[17] Probably Edgar Degas, The Racecourse, Amateur Jockeys Close to a Carriage, 1876–1878, Louvre, Paris. 

[18] Several paintings of this name were painted by Monet, e.g., Poppy Field and Poppy Field near Giverny, late 1880s, Hermitage Museum, Moscow. 

[19] Georges Mathieu, born 1921.  I have been unable to identify which painting Charlot was discussing.  

[20] In conversation, Mathieu told Charlot that the Japanese should develop calligraphy independent of the meaning conventionally attached to writing.  Charlot thought the Japanese had already done that.