Japonisme

A French term coined by the French critic Philippe Burty in 1872 to describe the influence of Japanese art and aesthetics on French and later Western art during the latter half of the nineteenth century. There has been much debate about the precise date when this influence was first felt in Europe but it must be connected to the opening of trading relations with the hitherto isolationist Japan after the 1854 Treaty of Kanagawa was signed under duress after a fleet of warships under Commodore Perry had been despatched by the United States. However, it should be remembered that the Dutch had conducted limited trade with Japan prior to that date.

The first artist to come under the influence of the art of Japan may have been Félix Bracquemond, who exhibited with the Impressionists and who is said to have seen Hokusai wood-block prints in the gallery of a Parisian dealer in 1856. By the 1860’s Japanese wares were widely available in Paris and London. The rediscovery of Japanese art and design had a profound effect on Western art during the last third of the nineteenth century and beyond. Degas, Manet, Monet, van Gogh and J.A.M Whistler among many others fell under the spell of the flat, stylised art of ‘Ukiyo-e’ – the art of the Floating World. Later, the aesthetic movement and art nouveau were also indebted to the art of Japan.