Mad Women

(Camille Claudel’s “The Wave.” Via A World to Win.)

A little while ago, I posted about Camille Claudel, but didn’t actually show the connection that makes her presence on this blog, which is mostly about Japan, clearer. So, here goes!

Shortly after the Meiji Restauration in 1868 when Japan was opened to trade, Japanese art became all the rage in Europe and influenced European art in a movement familiarly known as Japonisme. Therefore, it’s not surprising that artists such as Claudel were also influenced. Comparisons have been made between her miniature “The Wave” (above) and Hokusai’s “The Great Wave,” but Claudel has a deeper, more personal connection to Japan that isn’t as obvious.

I’d like to start a new series of posts about the personal connections and relationships that tied some prominent Western thinkers and artists to Japan. I’m often surprised what kinds of deep connections crop up between East and West. By the front door of my apartment, I have a dry erase board on which I’ve been mapping out various such relationships. Considering how fascinating these are, I feel like I should share them., and for lack of a better name, I’m going to call the series “Japan Connections” for now. (If I think of something better, or if you can think of something, leave a note, and I might change it.)

The connection Camille Claudel had to Japan that fascinates me was through her little brother, Paul Claudel, the diplomat and playwright. He entered the civil service in 1893, and among his many posts throughout the world, one that had a deep impact on his work as a playwright was his time in Tokyo from 1922 to 1928.

Camille created a number of sculptures of her “little Paul.” Some sources say Paul also idolized his older sister, but he was also instrumental in her induction into a mental asylum in 1913, only days after her father’s death. As may be familiar to you, Camille remained institutionalized the remaining 30 years of her life although doctors suggested her release sometime in the 1920s and visitors said she did not seem in the least in need of institutionalization.

Unfortunately, I’m no expert of Paul Claudel. His fervor for the Catholic faith and his right-wing leanings have dampened my interest in his work. However, a strong resemblance between some characters in his plays and his sister Camille has been pointed out. Other research has shown that a number of his plays show strong influences from Nô, which he reportedly saw repeatedly during his time in Tokyo.

Although my understanding of the personal influences and the influences from Nô in Paul’s plays is spotty, the connection seems strong to me. In his mind, did he see his sister in the figures of mad women in Nô plays? I have no doubt he did.


I could probably write a novel on my thoughts about Camille Claudel. This photograph (by l’enfer) is the first photograph I’ve seen of “La Valse (The Waltz)” that begins to grasp the depth of feeling in her work.

I first came across Claudel, when I was in an undergraduate art history class. I wrote a paper then that argued that she was more than simply Rodin’s muse. She was the creative force that brought Rodin new popularity later in life. She worked directly on pieces for which he gained credit, including “Gates of Hell” and “Burghers of Calais.”

There are many arguments for why this was perhaps even common practice at that time, but since she helped him with a lot of his work, there are very few pieces attributed to her directly. One of them, and one that shows her genius in expression as a sculptor, is “La Valse.” The solid bronze seems to melt and twist to an inaudible melody.

Although there are stories of a relationship between Claudel and Claude Debussy, the details are vague. It seems to be true, however, that he had a copy of “La Valse” either on his piano or on his mantle piece. . .

Taro Bove

(Images of Taro Bove’s performance of Kakitsubata in 2010. This is not the performance I saw, but the style, stage, and his costume were similar. The photo is from Bove.)

On Thursday for the first time, I was at KAAT, the brand new performing arts center in Yokohama that has just opened. It is a beautiful, very large space, and I hope to see more of it soon.

I arrived just in time to attend a performance by Taro Bove in the lobby of the building. A white, square stage and two black felt-covered platforms were set up. As I arrived, noh instrumental music (hayashi) played quietly. Eventually, three professional noh instrumentalists entered and took their places on one of the platforms, and then a single professional noh actor (and singer) came and took his place on the other platform.

The four noh performers began to play and chant music to “Izutsu.” In the play the ghost of the wife of famous Nara period philanderer and poet Ariwara no Narihira appears. She recounts her story as the wife of Narihira. Left behind during one of his visits to another woman, she expresses her loneliness and her faithful love for her husband through poetry. In the culmination of the piece, she dances in her husband’s robes and then looks into a well they played at as children. In her reflection in the water, she sees her husband. . .

As if appearing out of nowhere through the audience, Bove slowly entered. Continue reading “Taro Bove”

Funada Gyokujū

(“Evening Flowers” (Hana no Yūbe) by Funada Gyokujū, also occasionally known as Funada Tamaki, with thanks to Cloudy with a Chance of Clouds)

This painting is well on its way to becoming famous. It was the poster child for the recent exhibit “The Avant Guard of ‘Nihonga’ 1938 – 1949” at the MOMAT (National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo). “Nihonga” means painting using traditionally Japanese materials and often incorporating Japanese themes, styles, and techniques.

The MOMAT exhibition did not focus specifically on Funada, but on the group of artists of which he was a member. However, most of my favorite paintings on display were by him. I’ll try to dedicate more posts to other artists of the group as I get access to images, but for now, a few more images by Funada. . . Continue reading “Funada Gyokujū”

Stereoview Photography


(A stereoview photograph of maiko and children looking through a torn shoji screen taken in the Meiji period by T. Enami.)

I stumbled across a collection of stereoview photographs of Meiji Japan by a Japanese photographer named Enami Nobukuni (1859 – 1929), also known as T. Enami. It’s amazing how orientalist the themes of these pictures seem now, but the photographer was Japanese. Of course, many stereographs were exported to consumers in the US, Germany, and other countries. I chose a few of my favorites so far to show to you, but there are so many more that I haven’t even looked at yet.

To see more, Continue reading “Stereoview Photography”

Ogata Korin’s Irises

(The left screen of Kōrin’s Irises. Both screens can be seen at the museum website here.)

It rained today, but I had a strong urge to get out and do something, so I went to the Nezu Museum for the last day of an exhibition that included Ogata Kōrin’s pair of folding screens depicting irises.

The museum is located in Omotesandō, an area where many upscale fashion designers have elaborate boutiques, and yet the Nezu Museum itself bridges contemporary design and tradition.  It’s main building was recently rebuilt in metal and glass.  Yet its vast tile roof, deep eves, and dim lighting are reminiscent of traditional Japanese architecture.

Behind the museum gallery, the large traditional garden has four tea houses, all of which were in use today by women in gorgeous kimono ostensibly engaged in private tea ceremonies within the clay walls, paper covered windows, and thatched roofs. Continue reading “Ogata Korin’s Irises”

Is art an amoral (or even immoral) luxury or a moral necessity?

(The Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, built during the worst famine in Japanese history.)

In a world with hunger, war, and great inequalities, although I live a simple life as a student, I do so within the richest societies of the world: the US, Japan, and Germany. I have the luxury of traveling to other countries, and I have rarely chosen to go to countries less privileged than my own. One may call this socio-economic – even a form of nationalistic – discrimination, but I will openly admit my own weakness when faced with other people’s suffering. I want to help, but know not how.

And then, there is what I do. I spend all my time pursuing the most luxurious pastimes: education and art. Both of these are only practicable when all other needs are satisfied, but they do satisfy the spirit like no other activity. Some artists and many scholars talk about the internal drive that governs their activities in art and research. I would say this drive is more fundamental than some basic needs, but why is that so? That’s what I would like to think about here, but of the two, education is perhaps more easily justified as moral. So, I would like to focus on the question:  How can art be justified?

Many would say art is not justified. A criminal’s interests in literature and art even now are presented in courtrooms to condemn the criminal’s moral capacity. So it may be said that art makes evil inner desires apparent. Certainly I agree with that, and in that sense art is an indulgence, but in the act of engaging in art in whatever form, those inner desires are externalized for inspection. The artist and the audience both can then draw their own moral judgment of the situation presented artistically. Therefore, a person’s preference in art may show the challenges that person faces, but not that person’s level of moral judgment. So, art is a tool for developing moral judgment.

However, art is still a luxury. Continue reading “Is art an amoral (or even immoral) luxury or a moral necessity?”