Summary of Japonism
Depicting the world through an alternate lens from the Western Renaissance, the introduction of Japanese art and design to Europe brought about revolutions in composition, palette, and perspectival space. Japonism, also often referred to by the French term, japonisme, refers to the incorporation of either iconography or concepts of Japanese art into European art and design. It is important to note that this integration was often based on European notions of Japanese culture as much as authentic influence. Most of the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist artists, as well as the members of the Aesthetic movement, were deeply influenced by this new approach to representation.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- As Japan began trade with Europe, the aesthetic and philosophies of Japanese design quickly became fashionable. European collectors amassed both high-end objets d'art and inexpensive prints (which were actually originally included as packing material for fragile luxury goods).
- Artists seeking a fresh alternative to the Renaissance tradition of illusionistic painting were drawn to the vivid colors and new perspectives of Ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints. While these images remained realistic, their simplified palettes, unusual viewpoints, minimalistic arrangements, and flattened space inspired European painters to experiment with their compositions.
- Studying Japanese prints, painters began to experiment with new ideas of perspective. They copied the common juxtapositions of objects near and far, along with unconventional cropping to create less symmetrical and more engaging compositions. This, combined with bright patterns of juxtaposed colors, often rendered in flat planes reminiscent of woodblock prints, created a flattening effect that became central to modernist painting.
- The appeal of Japonism was paradoxical: it was both appreciated for its exoticism and quickly assimilated as the organic expression of Western artistic ideals. Elements of the Japanese style were considered to express French and British sensibilities, even when they remained identifiable as Asian influences.
Overview of Japonism
Japonism built upon the Orientalist influences that were pervasive in European Neoclassical and Romantic art. The 18th-century aristocratic fashion for chinoiserie, based in imported Chinese art, merged with styles learned from French colonialist expansion in the Middle East and northern Africa. In the first half of the 19th century, artists as varied Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres turned to Orientalist subjects, developing dramatic intensely colored scenes as seen in Delacroix's Death of Sardanapalus (1827) or reconfiguring figurative work with sensual treatments such as Ingres's La Grande Odalisque (1814).