“I envy the Japanese,” Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo. In the exhibition on which this film is based—Van Gogh & Japan at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam—one can see why. Though Vincent van Gogh never visited Japan, it is the country that had the most profound influence on him and his art.
One cannot understand Van Gogh without understanding how Japanese art arrived in Paris in the mid-19th century and the impact it had on artists like Degas, Monet, and Van Gogh. Visiting the new galleries of Japanese art in Paris and then creating his own image of Japan—through in-depth research, print collecting, and discussions with other artists—led Van Gogh in an exciting new direction.
Van Gogh left Paris for the south of France—as near to a kind of Japan as he could find. The productive and yet troubled years that followed must all be seen in the context of Van Gogh bending Japanese influences to his will and defining himself as a modern artist with clear Asian precursors. This little-known story shows just how important his study of Japan was.