Oscar Wilde once famously said to J.M. Whistler, 'I wish that I'd said that, Jimmie,' to which Whistler replied, 'You will, Oscar, you will.' Wilde knew a good idea when he saw one, as many other artists and writers have done, (and many could improve on them). Where borrowing stops and plagiarism begins is another thing. Hiroshi Yoshida (above) just about gets away with it with his witty addition of a tent and campfire. I just cannot believe he didn't know that William Giles wasn't an avid camper. Hence the mountain campsite. William and Ada Giles presumably went to Corsica
before the first war and Giles came up with his 'venturesome' The last glow, central Corsica in 1915, some while before Yoshida would have been busy with his brush.
I suppose with Japan's unique reproductive system of making prints, anyone's work was regarded as fair game. Even so, Yoshida's borrowing is so blatant, it takes your breath away, and I can well understand why Giles became so indignant about European artists like Elizabeth Keith co-operating with Tokyo publishers. He might have had a point when it came to Charles Bartlett, who worked for Wantanabe from 1915 (Yoshida also provided designs for Wantanabe later on) and a couple of years afterwards came up with his little masterpiece, Silk merchants, India which owes quite alot to a great masterpiece - I mean, Georges Seurat's A Sunday afternoon on the island of the Grand Jatte.
Surprising, I know, but nevertheless true. You only need to compare the seated turbanned figures to see what I mean. But what Bartlett really nicked from Seurat was the theme and tone of the work. Bartlett, no doubt, had the excuse that colour woodcut wasn't his main work and it certainly makes you wonder about those people who pay so much for them now. But then, I also think that's printmaking for you, and in many ways adapting Seurat to an Indian setting was in itself an original thing to do.
Nor was he alone in making good use of Seurat. S.G. Boxsius had such a habit of using other people's work, whether prints, paintings or photographs, it really just became a part of what he did. I think partly in his case he must have learned the habit early on as the youngest brother of six. Imitation just becomes second nature, as I know, being the youngest myself.
You might find some of this a bit tenuous, but there is circumstantial evidence, as they say, to kind of back this up. So, I am sure that Boxsius was well-acquainted with Seurat's other masterpiece, Bathers, Asnieres when he came to make his marvellous little print, Seaside. I have talked before about a photograph of Boxsius teaching at Bolt Court surrounded by the casts of classical statuary the students had to draw. Copying was a standard part of the system, to the extent that Frank Brangwyn complained that the art schools only turned out 'clever imitators' (instead of brazen polymaths like him).
Even more than Bartlett, I think Boxsius made exceptional use of Seurat. Seaside is not great art, but I love it all the same, and it is fascinating to see an art teacher taking his own lessons to heart by looking hard at other artist's pictures and learning something from them. Personally, it is no surprise to me that Boxsius fell for Bathers, Asnieres. I have been gazing at it in the National Gallery in London ever since I was eighteen. Boxsius, for me, is an affordable Seurat, basically.
S.G.B. was also very deft when it came to Sidney Lee, but Lee himself was no slouch when it came to nicking stuff. Unaccountably, he turned Hokusai's image around, losing the crucial oban shape and sometimes even more unaccountably leaving the moon out altogether when he made his daytime versions. The moon and the separation of the principal figures was the whole point of the picture, but never mind, I admire old Sidney for having a go. Hokusai's print reads from bottom to top, but Lee's lacks focus and reads all over the show.
Lee had a collection of Japanese prints and was, in fact, the first British printmaker to make such direct use of Japanese colour woodcut. Unfortunately, Lee rather spoiled it all by attempting to put himself above all that by insisting artists looked too much at the Old Masters. Perhaps Lee didn't include Hokusai amongst them. But then, Lee is easy to mock, partly because he is in some ways, an unsympathetic artist. But if he took ideas from other artists, at his best he was full of good ideas himself, and other artists recognised that. He certainly believed in himself.