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Claude Monet’s Japanese Print Collection

at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris

The well-known Musée Marmottan in Paris contains the world’s largest and most important collection of paintings by Claude Monet, particularly the famous « Impression Soleil Levant » and of course the Series of the « Nymphéas ».

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Claude Monet was not only the impressionist painter that we know but also an early collector of Japanese prints.
A temporary exhibition of his collection was presented at the Musée Marmottan, during the winter and spring season 2006-2007.

Our broadcast is dedicated to this exceptional event.

The collection on show in the Marmottan Museum comprises 231 Ukiyo-E engravings . They were acquired and kept by Monet at his home in Giverny where he had worked since 1883. The Japanese prints, called Ukiyo-E (“paintings of the Floating World”) were discovered by painters who were later known as the French Impressionists.

And we are grateful to Mrs. Marianne Delafond, museum curator and Co-author (together with Geneviève Aitken) of the documented catalogue for this outstanding exhibition, to be our guide. Thanks to her extensive explanations concerning this complex art of the woodblock prints,
of which Claude Monet’s collection is a outstanding selection, we get a deep understanding of this particular technique.

Japanese Printmaking Techniques

When studying the execution of Japanese prints, the first thing to note is the rigorous division of labour. Famous woodblock artists like Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige did not work on the wood themselves. They drew or colored the subject that they wanted to represent. From that point, the woodblock carver chose a piece of hard knotless wood. Onto this smooth surface, he glued the artist’s drawing. Then he transformed the design into a woodcut, carving out everything that was not in the pencil drawing. With a small knife, he incised every line. By cutting and cutting again, the lines which originally had been so easily drawn on paper were gradually shaped into crisp contours.
Although the golden age of the art of print-making was at the end of the eighteenth century and in the first half of the nineteenth, it first started in the fourteenth century. For years, Japanese woodblock prints inspired by Chinese traditions, were only printed in black and white. They were roughly engraved and printed on “washi” paper. By the end of the seventeenth century they were occasionally enhanced by hand with rare colours: bright red similar to the Chinese, red oxide from lead, blue or green and pink from saffron flowers.

By 1765, with an unlimited number of woodblocks, almost any colour could be included. For(...)

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