Re: Kuniyoshi & Escher

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Posted by John Fiorillo on February 10, 2003 at 08:24:33:

In Reply to: Re: Kuniyoshi & Escher posted by Dan McKee on February 08, 2003 at 17:46:51:

Hello, Dan,

Thank you for your follow-up response.

It's difficult sometimes to recognize the nuances of meaning and intention in these internet discussions. Thus I interpreted your words, "this technique in other European artwork," in your original message as a reference to the basic technique of employing frontal perspective, not to the specific example or subject of a frontal view of an aimed weapon (i.e., the latter is but one example of using the basic technique, not the technique itself). Your last response indicates that you did not mean this, but perhaps you can see why I thought you did.

I replied that the influence of Kuniyoshi as a direct model was highly unlikely (I did not say it was impossible, nor did I indicate that the two works were dissimilar) because of what I understood to be Escher's primary interests and sources of inspiration, namely, the exploration of visual illusion through the application of mathematical, geometric, and perceptual principles soundly located in Western art, mathematics, and science. Thus I discussed the basic frontal perspective as a technique seen for centuries in Western art, in my opinion the most likely influence on Escher.

Of course, as you rightly say, it would not have been impossible for Escher to have seen Japanese art. Yet, as you acknowledge, the question of direct influence, without corroborating evidence, places the art historian at a disavantage in establishing these connections. So while I do agree with you that there is a widespread reluctance to accept such links when the artistic styles are radically different, there are good reasons for this, and it is nevertheless up to those who believe in such specific influences to offer strong enough evidence to persuade others to change their minds.

To clarify why I remain skeptical, I would point out that the overwhelming evidence for the influence of ukiyo-e upon Impressionist artists, whom you mention, suggests that their art would not have been the same without their knowledge of Japanese prints. In contrast, Escher, in my opinion, could have certainly developed his art without ever seeing a single ukiyo-e print. So I would need to see more evidence in support of your position of so specific an influence as a single Kuniyoshi print design.

As for your alternate suggestion that Escher might have "reinvented" the frontal illusion with respect to an aimed weapon, I would agree with you as far as saying that his interest in perceptional illusion might have led him to create his particular design without the need to rely on any specific models, whether Western or Asian, though I think it most likely that he was well aware of the basic frontal illusion in Western art, as demonstrated in such works as the Rembrandt portrait I posted earlier. The similarity between the Kuniyoshi/Yoshitoshi designs and Escher's would therefore be coincidental. This is my opinion until evidence proves otherwise.

I appreciate your thoughful views on this topic. Perhaps we can follow up on this if and when either of us finds additional useful evidence.

Best wishes,


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