Japanese and British Art and the influence of France: L.S. Lowry and Oka Shikanosuke

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Japanese and British Art and the influence of France: L.S. Lowry and Oka Shikanosuke

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


At first the artists L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) and Oka Shikanosuke (1898-1978) appear to be separated by very different cultural and social backgrounds. Similarly, from the industrial point of view, it is clear that Lowry resided in a part of northern England which impacted greatly throughout the world because of the power dynamics of the Industrial Revolution. However, for Shikanosuke it is clear that rapid industrialization and modernity in Japan especially took off during his own lifetime. Of course, industrialization was challenging the old ways of the Edo period prior to the new ideas of the Meiji era. Yet clearly modern Japan traces its dynamic roots to the Meiji era and onwards.

Despite the huge differences within the cultural and artistic landscape of British and Japanese art and the enormous differences in society in general; both Lowry and Shikanosuke still managed to connect because of their industrial paintings and sharing the same generational space. In saying that, it is clear that the distinctiveness of Lowry’s art isn’t shared by Shikanosuke. However, the natural environment was powerful within their respective art and it is in this artistic dynamic where both artists connect.


Another area where Lowry and Shikanosuke meet is the impact of French art within their respective thought patterns. After all, the flow of French art, knowledge and the huge impact of impressionism impacted greatly within the psyche. Ironically, it was Shikanosuke who would reside in France between 1924 and 1939 and not Lowry despite France being very close to the United Kingdom. Yet Lowry was taught in his homeland by Pierre Adolphe Valette and this individual impacted greatly on Lowry.

Lowry stated about Pierre Adolphe Valette that “I cannot over-estimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris.”


Therefore, Lowry was influenced greatly by Pierre Adolphe Valette because the industrial reality of the world of Lowry must have felt like a million miles away from the French impressionist art scene. However, his new mentor would open up new ideas within his artistic soul which would impact greatly on him. It is known that Lowry admired his deep wisdom, knowledge, teaching ability and other fine attributes.

Shikanosuke, like Lowry, connected with the modern natural landscape and this area real shone brightly within both artists. Of course, Shikanosuke and Lowry focused on other areas of art because both individuals were not constrained by convention. Shikanosuke also felt the real world of France because he stayed in this country for a long period and obviously many cultural traits will have entered his approach to art. He was also known for his writing skills therefore just like Lowry both artists had many fine qualities.


In another article which was published by Modern Tokyo Times I state that “Another common area is that Shikanosuke admired Henri Rousseau and other artists like Odilon Redon. The real area of commonality applies to Henri Rousseau because he and Lowry had many skeptics who looked down on both artists respectively. This notably applies to both artists being deemed “naïve” or “part-time” artists which both would refute. Similarly, for many artists who respected both Henri Rousseau and Lowry, it is clear that they weren’t “naïve” or “part-time.” On the contrary, Henri Rousseau and Lowry have left a rich legacy.”

“Shikanosuke would also disagree because he deeply admired Henri Rousseau and this can be seen clearly in many of his art pieces. Henri Rousseau and Lowry also understood the art world around them but despite this they both remained firmly independent. This means that the individualism of their respective art is deeply rewarding. Therefore, Shikanosuke reflects and highlights the majesty of Henri Rousseau in many pieces of his art. At the same time, Shikanosuke is showing the world that he was blessed with many skills and this is reflected in the diversity of his art and writing.”


Lowry would remain unbowed because he had a firm conviction towards his art and he wasn’t afraid to test the water. In this sense, Shikanosuke would be a little different because the impact of Rousseau would shape many aspects of his art. This notably applies to the natural modern landscape that he depicted and in relationship with other areas. Therefore, the independent nature of Lowry shines through brightly.

Lowry hit back at his critics who called him a “Sunday painter” because he replied sharply that “If people call me a Sunday painter I’m a Sunday painter who paints every day of the week!”  Indeed, the art work of Lowry is extremely broad despite the industrial landscape coming to the fore when thinking about his art work. In truth, Lowry had many angles to his art therefore he clearly wasn’t a “Sunday painter.”


Shikanosuke also wasn’t afraid to tackle conventional wisdom because Rousseau wasn’t so popular in Japan. Despite this, something within the art work of Rousseau appealed greatly to Shikanosuke. This reality can be seen by Shikanosuke’s tenaciousness in spreading the influence of Rousseau to the Japanese public once he returned to his native country.

Lowry was drawn to the industrial landscape by a flash of inspiration. He comments that “One day I missed a train from Pendlebury – (a place) I had ignored for seven years – and as I left the station I saw the Acme Spinning Company’s mill … The huge black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out… I watched this scene – which I’d looked at many times without seeing – with rapture…”


It is true to say that the industrial theme was much more striking and powerful within the art of Lowry. Despite this, Shikanosuke did focus on aspects of everyday life and the same applies to painting scenes which were far from idyllic. Overall, both artists connected with many art lovers because of their rich artistic nature. Also, Lowry and Shikanosuke were not afraid to go against the grain and this speaks volumes about both artists who strived to connect within a rapidly changing world.

Lowry – Art 1 – 3- 5- 7

Shikanosuke 2-4-6










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