Vincent’s Japanese examples

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Slide 1: Slide
Art and designPrimary EducationLower Secondary (Key Stage 3)

This lesson contains 20 slides, with interactive quizzes, text slides and 1 video.

time-iconLesson duration is: 75 min


The pupils use Japanese prints as inspiration for new work of their own, just as Vincent Van Gogh did. They can do this lesson (with video) on their own.


General Learning Objectives
- Pupils get to know the work of Vincent van Gogh.
- Pupils combine elements from various Japanese prints in a new work of their own.

Time allocation
- Content of lesson and watching video: c. 20 minutes.
- Practical exercise: c. 20 minutes, depending on material chosen.

- Decide what materials to work with (see “materials required” and “alternatives”) and lay them out before beginning the lesson.

Materials required
- Computer, iPad or mobile phone with sound.
- Thick A3 drawing paper
- Pencils, erasers and rulers
- Dip pens and Indian ink, or fineliners
- Colouring pencils or felt pens

1. Use oil pastels and poster paint or acrylic (with thin brushes) instead of colouring pencils or felt pens. Don’t use fineliners for the line work if painting.
2. Lay the emphasis on the “composition” of new work from parts of various examples and ask the children to make a collage with scissors, glue and old magazines.
3. Ask the pupils to combine other examples from art history, from a single artist or a mix of several.

Background information
Vincent van Gogh admired the lines, colour planes and cropping used by Japanese artists in their figurative work, landscapes and city views. They were different from the European art he was used to, and from anything he had made himself. Vincent studied Japanese prints and then made his own versions of them. He did this very carefully, using, for example, the grid method to scale the images up onto canvas. (For more on this, see the lesson Vincent XL.)

Items in this lesson

Slide 1 - Slide

Ask the pupils to study the picture closely for as long as the music plays (34 secs). They must not say anything yet. Then go to slide 2 for the quiz question.
Courtesan, 1888

This woman comes from…
South Africa

Slide 2 - Quiz

Discuss the correct answer briefly. How can you tell that this woman comes from Japan? The kimono perhaps?
What else do you see in this painting?

Slide 3 - Slide

First, click on the question mark and ask the pupils to name what they see in the painting. Then show (via the hotspot bottom left) the example which Vincent used: the cover of a French magazine, Paris Illustré, from 1886. It features an image of the work of Japanese artist, Keisai Eisen.
What is the same?
What is different?

Slide 4 - Slide

Ask the pupils to compare the pictures with each other, for as long as the music plays (34 secs). They must not say anything yet. Then go to slide 5 for the mind map.
What is the same?
What is different?

Slide 5 - Mind map

Note the answers. You can use the pencil function to write them on the interactive whiteboard. Also point out the border Vincent made on his painting, and explain that he used other examples for this.

In Vincent’s own words:
“Theo and I have hundreds of these Japanese prints.”

Slide 6 - Slide

Repeat that along with this magazine, Vincent therefore had other examples too. Then click on the hotspot top left for the quote.

If the class doesn’t yet know Theo, he was Vincent’s younger brother, who he lived with for a time in Paris. Theo (hotspot bottom right) supported Vincent (financially), so that he could concentrate on his art.

Slide 7 - Slide

Tell: Here are two of the prints. Vincent used examples from these in the painting too. Can the pupils tell which elements he used?

-  New print of insects and small creatures (Utagawa Yoshimaru, 1883)

- Geishas in a landscape (1870 - 1880)

Slide 8 - Slide

The hotspots reveal examples from the first print.

Slide 9 - Slide

The hotspot reveals an example from the second print.

Slide 10 - Slide

Vincent made other “Japanese” paintings, such as Bridge in the rain (after Hiroshige). For this painting, he used this print (by Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige - see hotspot) as his example.

Slide 11 - Slide

For Flowering Plum Orchard (after Hiroshige) he also took a print by Utagawa Hiroshige as his example (see hotspot).

Slide 12 - Slide

Click on the three hotspots. Apart from the subject, there is an important difference between the painting in the middle and the two other works. Can the pupils see what it is?
Vincent painted “Japanese characters” in the borders. He thought it looked nice.
But of course he couldn’t read any Japanese. The writing therefore doesn’t make any sense.

Slide 13 - Slide

Vincent keek naar voorbeelden van tekens op Japanse prenten. In de randen van zijn werk combineerde hij wat hij interessante vormen vond. Voor mensen die geen Japans kunnen lezen ziet dat er gewoon mooi uit. Maar voor mensen die dat wel kunnen, is het een nogal vreemd eindresultaat.
What did Vincent actually learn from these Japanese prints?
Colours and planes
Contour lines
High horizon
Zooming in

Slide 14 - Slide

The video in the next slide was not made specially for schools. To prepare the pupils, the terminology is shown here in simpler terms. Click on the hotspots for pictures of the concepts.
(Tip: click each one again to hide, before clicking on the next hotspot.)

Slide 15 - Video

Watch the video (c. 2 minutes).

Video: What did Vincent learn from Japanese prints?
Colours and planes
Contour lines
High horizon
Zooming in

Slide 16 - Slide

Discuss the concepts briefly again if necessary. You can point out the similarities between “space” and “high horizon”. Ask the pupils which of the concepts they’d like to try out for themselves.
Getting down to work

Slide 17 - Slide

Then explain to the pupils that they will make their own work with Japanese examples (or introduce the alternative exercise).
Your own Japanese text in the border of your artwork?
Tip: use Google Translate or another translation app!

Slide 18 - Slide

Using this slide, give a rough explanation of the layout of Japanese prints: a central field with a border around it, with or without calligraphic characters. The hotspot on the right shows the layout. The hotspot on the left suggests translating your own text to Japanese with a translation app. 

Hand out the examples; use the pictures in this slide, or show examples from the Van Gogh Museum (link) on the interactive whiteboard.

How did it go?

Slide 19 - Slide

Look at the end results together at the end of the lesson. Was it difficult or not at all? Are the pupils happy with their creations? (And what do their “Japanese characters” mean?) Finally, hang up the work in a prominent place in the classroom or elsewhere in the school.

Slide 20 - Slide

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