- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

In 1910, when Phillips Collection founding benefactor Duncan Phillips was 24, he made his first trip abroad. Instead of heading for the world art capital of Paris, as many expected, he traveled to Japan.

“It was an eye-opening experience. He was fascinated by the Japanese influence on modern artists,” Jay Gates, the Phillips Collection’s director, told guests Thursday evening at the opening of “East Meets West,” an exhibition of famed woodblock printmaker Utagawa Hiroshige’s 1834 pictorial travelogue series, “The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido.”

The late Mr. Phillips, he noted, would surely have appreciated the lasting impression Hiroshige’s inventive compositions had on artists in the West, who were rebelling from the academic mode and looking for new ways to interpret nature. That connection certainly explains the Phillips’ innovative juxtaposition of Hiroshige’s landscape prints (depicting stops of the famous Tokaido Road between Edo — present-day Tokyo — and the imperial capital of Kyoto) with works by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cezanne, Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman and others.

The Hiroshige works were famed for showing the entire range of Japanese scenic beauty within the context of changing weather, seasons and time of day rather than merely recording topographical views. How fascinating, then, to be able to compare, side by side, George Braque and Hiroshige’s nearly identical diagonal lines to represent falling rain; or the vertical format for landscape Paul Gaugin may have adapted after seeing the Japanese master’s work.

“It’s a show that will cause people to pause and think about the visual language … a bit longer than the average 2.4 seconds they usually spend looking at a painting in a museum,” noted Ann Yonemura, senior assistant curator at the Freer and Sackler galleries.

Former Speaker of the House Tom Foley, who served as ambassador to Japan during the Clinton administration, served as the event’s host and welcomed guests on behalf of Lockheed Martin Corp., the exhibit’s underwriter.

— Kevin Chaffee

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