Adventurous, progressive artists have always found unconventional “alternative” sources to be fertile stimuli for their work. In the mid-nineteenth century, the rebellious painters now known as the Impressionists rejected the certainties of the Academy’s officially sanctioned Greco-Roman past in favor of the vagaries of the world around them. But they were also fascinated by Japanese prints—unfamiliar images that had been circulating for about a decade, ever since Japan had resumed trading with the West—finding fresh suggestions for composition, color, and expressive simplification in the woodblocks’ compressed spaces, saturated hues, and clear shapes. In the same way, at the beginning of the twentieth century, daring young painters such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and their American friend Max Weber, became entranced by the bold articulation and fierce emotional charge of...


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