The Representation of Joseon by Fujisima Takeji : with a Focus on the decoractive paintings
Recent scholarly understanding of Fujishima Takeji(1867-1943) has been groundbreaking in its reassessment of the artist through its exposition of the orientalist style of Fujishima as reflective of Japan’s imperial aspirations. While accepting the basic premises of this new perspective, this paper aims to demonstrate the significance of the decorative painting style that Fujishima pursued throughout his career.
Fujishima’s oriental interest began in Joseon. Upon touring there for almost one month beginning on 25 November 1913, Fujishima demonstrates how he felt about Joseon in his article “Impression After the Joseon Tour” published in Bijutsu Shinpo in March of 1914, Fujishima describes Joseon as ‘a place that reminds us of a lost past’, and a space ‘that reminds us of Japan’s dynastic period’. This view, as the aforementioned research has pointed out, shares a common context with western orientalist artists who romanticized the ‘everlasting Orient', and the ‘lost past’ untouched by modernization and development.
On the other hand, this inclination is also a characteristic of the new decorative painting style that Fujishima created at this point in his career, after having devoted four years to the study of decorative painting in Europe. The term ‘decorative painting’ is seen in numerous records and is believed to refer to highly embellished paintings modeled on decorative murals. The decorative painting style that Fujishima pursued is based on the assumption that a decorative painting ought to consist of more than mere colors and lines, but must also hold ideals, meaning and reference mythology. What is more, it must possess hints of an illusion and subjectivity, and must bear a deep and significant relationship with the spirit of the times.
The ‘unrealistic and fantastic’ image of Joseon recalling the ‘lost past’ brought a change in Fujishima that could be understood as his return to the literary culture and symbolism that he had attained during his education in Europe. From Joseon, Fujishima was able to discover not only colors and lines, but also a mentality of ‘decorative painting ideals and significance’. These images of Joseon that reminded Fujishima of Japan’s past (the Tenpyo era) also enabled his creation of ‘the classics of the Orient’ in which Asia shared one culture centered upon Tang China.
In the image of an ancient Orient constructed by Fujishima, a contemporaneity is achieved whereby Taiwan and Joseon, colonies from the end of Meiji to the Taisho period, are united through Asia as a single organic entity. The decorative paintings of Fujishima demand further academic clarification as to whether the role of orientalist is one that represents characteristics of decorative painting inseparable from the reigning zeitgeist.
The decorative painting of Puvis de Chavannes, which Fujishima held as an ideal until his final days, typically included buildings and people adorned in garbs reminiscent of ancient Greece. I believe that while borrowing oriental themes and motifs, these ancient worlds as depicted in western decorative murals were also imported into the new decorative painting that Fujishima tried to complete through his series, the ‘Classics of the Orient’.