japonisme: 9/2/07 - 9/9/07

08 September 2007

magazine covers III

where japanese design elements were used was in images whose greatest purpose was to sell the american way of life to the most important audience of all, the american people.

the japanese prints, combined with innovations in printing methods (inspired by those prints) began, among other things, an explosion in poster art. once the magazine covers stopped having merely their tables of contents exhibited, they became, essentially, posters themselves.

the rapid growth in magazine circulation at the beginning of the 20th century reflected both their increased appeal and, again, a growing middle class able to afford them and interested in what they were communicating. because what they were communicating, what they were creating, what they were selling, was the american dream.

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07 September 2007

magazine covers II

(from yesterday) the homemaker magazines and others....

it was a time of revolution in the arts. the line between 'artist' and 'illustrator' became blurred as the creators of magazine covers became collectible artists.

but additionally, i see these magazines, in that time, as kind of like oprah. they introduced the newest things to its readers, brought them the culture, the creativity, and the latest craze in a fancy package, almost like a gift.

i picture edna, one of millions of farm wives way out in the country, sitting on a stool in her kitchen alone, listening to the radio (if they can get a signal out there), and taking a break from her chores. she's just received her latest issue of modern priscilla, with its wonderful patterns, and stories, and pictures. she's connected to the world. she closes her eyes in reverie, dreaming of the blue silk she saved for and bought. she's embroidering it at night from a pattern in the magazine. how beautiful she will be for george in her very own kimono.

none of these magazine covers illustrate japonisme in style, but they have the word 'craze' written all over them. the popularizing of the orient.

(and yes, i do know that some of the images from yesterday and today illustrate chinese rather than japanese images, but i've found so many comments illustrating a total lack of awareness of any difference -- sheet music for 'chinese cherry blossom' featuring a woman clearly in the garb of a japanese courtesan -- that i think they can be included without apology.)

(the popular mechanics, which i just cannot explain, comes from here.)

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06 September 2007

magazine covers I

the impression one might get from discussions of japonisme (like this one) is that it was a phenomenon of artists and the upper class. but that would be wrong.

candace wheeler (whose work can be seen here and here) followed in the same mold as did the instigators of the saturday evening girls and the like in using her own creativity to teach younger women ways of earning a living.

the milieu to which she belonged—a world in which pattern, texture, glint, nature, color, exoticism, and yards of cloth in one's surroundings.... 1

Wheeler was one of the first designers to use American flowers (versus their European counterparts) as her inspiration. She studied Japanese stenciled kimono fabrics for ideas. The patterns she created are delicate and whimsical. Her textiles are masterpieces of the American Decorative Arts. 2

it should come as no surprise, then, that the japonisme of her taste should be communicated to her students, as is evidenced by the covers of some of the "humblest" of magazines, those devoted to needlework and the arts of the home. as these women began to join the creative forces of this country they redefined, expanded, the meaning of the word 'artist.'

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05 September 2007

poppy day


I’ve watched the Seasons passing slow,
so slow,
In the fields between La Bassée and Bethune;
Primroses and the first warm day of Spring,
Red poppy floods of June,
August, and yellowing Autumn, so
To Winter nights knee-deep in mud or snow,
And you’ve been everything.

Dear, you’ve been everything that I most lack
In these soul-deadening trenches— pictures, books,
Music, the quiet of an English wood,

Beautiful comrade-looks,
The narrow, bouldered mountain-track,
The broad, full-bosomed ocean, green and black,
And Peace, and all that’s good.

Robert Graves

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04 September 2007

the geeses are coming! the geeses are coming!

i happened upon a new, to me, site today that i found charming, relevant, and a little disappointing.

it's a children's books library. each of over 2,000 books has been wholly scanned, and is made available at 'real size' and color. it's wonderfully easy to navigate as well.

the collection seems to catch the publishing industry right at the time of the aesthetic movement, though there is still a fair offering of victorian style as well. but with the aesthetic we have that introduction of the japanese influence.

in 'alice's alphabet,' for example, right there under 'a is for alice' we see a japanese fan on the mantle. and, of course, 'f is for fan.' this is the time of walter crane and kate greenaway, and of the two, i think the first, who has been featured here, was the more influenced. in this collection, we have the gamut. clearly the influence is there, the outlines, the blocks of color, the diagonals, occasionally the calligraphy style, and then too the 'product placement.' and the clearest markings of the era--the page decoration features.

what we don't see much of yet is how the line itself began to change; as with women's dresses, the lines in illustration became less rigid, and more natural, purely reflecting their asian influences.

then of course there is edward lear, whose work, among the earliest, could have been done yesterday.

yes, i was disappointed that the collection stopped at 1900, just when my interest really begins, but a fine collection it is, and i had a lovely couple of hours there without even leaving the A's!

(edward lear, 'a book of nonsense,' 1875; j.g. sowerby, 'afternoon tea: rhymes for children,' 1880.)

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california dreaming

as we've seen, the principles of design learned from the japa- nese prints were used heavily in travel post- ers. the train was new, as was the middle class, a group with the ability to do some traveling.

one geographical area that pushed it to the limit was california. in their competition with florida* for tourist dol- lars, and for their need to populate the state, they created 'california is calling you,' an image

of an arena so golden, so spiritually uplifting, and with so many possibilities for joy that it was an irresistible dream for many.

some of those dreamers were masters of the fine arts who were drawn to california's promise (some from as far away as germany): william wendt, maurice braun, frank morley fletcher, and more. together, many of them formed the movement called the 'california impressionists.'

many felt that their work often had a very similar feel to the promotional artwork, which only demonstrates the level of beauty in the promotional materials, and points to the stars in the eyes of those who responded when california beckoned.
(Al Jolson / Bud De Sylva / Joseph Meyer)

When the wintry winds are blowing and the snow is starting in to fall,
then my eyes turn west-ward, knowing that's the place I love the best of all.
California , I've been blue, since I've been away from you.
I can't wait 'til I get going.
Even now I'm starting in to call, Oh...

California, here I come right back where I started from.
Where Bowers of flowers bloom in the spring.
Each morning at dawning, birdies sing an' everything.
A sunkist miss said, "Don't be late" that's why I can hardly wait.
Open up that Golden Gate,
California here I come.

Any one who likes to wander ought to keep this saying in his mind,
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder" of the good old place you leave behind.
When you've hit the train awhile, seems you rarely see a smile;
that's why I must fly out yonder, where a frown is mighty hard to find! Oh....

California, here I come right back where I started from.
Where Bowers of flowers bloom in the spring.
Each morning at dawning, birdies sing an' everything.
A sunkist miss said, "Don't be late" that's why I can hardly wait.
Open up that Golden Gate.
California here I come.

(Recorded by : John Arpin; Gordon Beck; Jethro Burns; Joe Bushkin;
Freddy Cannon; Eddie Cantor; Judy Carmichael; Ray Charles;
Eddie Condon; J. Lawrence Cook; James Dapogny;
Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards; Bill Evans; Firehouse Five Plus Two;
Jimmy Giuffre; Benny Goodman; Lionel Hampton; Ted Heath;
Duke Heitger; Art Hodes; Claude Hopkins & His Orch.; Betty Johnson;
Al Jolson; Martin Litton; Louis Mazetier; Bob McHugh Trio;
Paris Washboard; Ed Polcer & His All Stars; Mel Powell;
Pee Wee Russell; Slappin' Mammys; Hal Smith; Ralph Sutton;
Fats Waller; Jackie Wilson.)

some wonderful source books:

and many more.

* we'll get to florida later

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02 September 2007

today, in celebration of this blog's first birthday, i want to showcase some things that have special meaning to me. first up is a short excerpt from a book that had a major influence on my life. though it was written over 300 years ago, a new directions paperback was done a little more recently. it is heavily footnoted and, to my eyes, the translation is seamless. what emerges is a book woven of whole cloth, of, perhaps, yellow silk.

(this first image was done in 1739. as woodblock prints did not reach their real popularity until the 1600s, when, as with the audience for this book, the middle-class consumer was 'born,' there are far fewer to choose from.)

THE LIFE OF AN AMOROUS WOMAN written in 1686 by ihara saikaku 1

I did not begin life in my present humble state. My mother, it is true, was not of noble lineage, but my father was the scion of a gentleman who once enjoyed high rank in the court of the cloistered Emperor Hanazono the Second. As is the way in this changing world of ours, my father fell into decline—to such a point that life no longer seemed worth the living. By good fortune I was well favoured in my looks and was able to take service at court in attendance on a most excellent lady. In due course I became accustomed to the elegance of palace life, and had things continued as they were, I doubt not but that I should after some years have risen in the world. But from the beginning of my tenth summer I fell prey to wanton feelings. No longer was I content to leave the styling of my hair to others; instead I was guided by my own fastidious taste. Having carefully examined the various fashions, I adopted a Shimada coiffure, without a chignon and so shaped that it fell down at the back; this I secured with a hidden paper cord after the fashion of the time. During this period I devoted myself assiduously to the practice of Court Dyeing and I may say that this art owes its later popularity to my efforts at that time. Now life for those at court, whether they be reading poems or engaged in a game of kemari, is ever flavoured with the spice of love.

Day and night my eyes were intoxicated with the vision of that one thing alone and my ears palpitated with the sound of it. It is but natural that all this should have called forth my own amorous inclinations and indeed that I should have come to regard love as the most important thing in life. It was about this time that I began to receive tender missives from every quarter, all suing ardently for my affection—and all equally disconsolate.

In the end I was hard put to find place to store them. Addressing myself, then, to a soldier of the Guards—a man of few words—I had him make these letters into ephemeral wisps of smoke; strange to relate, those parts in which the writers had affirmed their love by invoking the names of the myriad Gods did not burn, but were carried away by the wind and blown to the Yoshida Shrine.

There is naught in this world so strange as love. The several men who had set their affections on me were both fashionable and handsome; yet none of them aroused any tender feelings in me. Now there was a humble warrior in the service of a certain courtier. The fellow was low in rank and of a type that most women would regard askance. Yet from the first letter that he wrote me his sentences were charged with a passion powerful enough to slay one. In note after note he set forth his ardent feelings, until, without realizing it, I myself began to be troubled in my heart. It was hard for us to meet, but with some cunning I managed to arrange a tryst and thus it was that I gave my body to him.

Our amour was bound to become the gossip of the court and one dawn it “emerged into the light.” In punishment I was banished to , the neighbourhood of Uji Bridge. My lover, most grievous to relate, was put to death. For some days thereafter, as I lay tossing on my bed, half asleep, half awake, his silent form would appear terrifyingly before me. In my agony I thought that I must needs take my own life; yet, after some days had passed, I completely forgot about him. From this one may truly judge that nothing in this world is as base and fickle as a woman's heart.

Because I was only twelve years old at the time, people were disposed to pass over my fault; indeed they could hardly believe such an intrigue possible for one of my tender years. I myself could not help being amused at their feelings. To be sure, young girls have changed greatly. In former times, when a girl was about to set off for her marriage, she would weep bitterly at the thought of leaving her parents' roof. But our present-day young lady is cleverer by far. She frets and chafes until the go-between appears at the door, quickly slips into her finest clothes, waits impatiently for the arrival of the palanquin and when it comes jumps into it hurry-scurry. Her joy shows on her face up to the very tip of her nose. How different things used to be! Until some forty years ago a girl would play on her bamboo hobbyhorse by the gate of her house until she was seventeen or eighteen, while a boy would wait until he was twenty-four to celebrate the coming-of-age ceremony.

But I myself embarked on the way of love when I was yet a mere flower bud, and, having first muddied myself in the Rapids of the Yellow Rose, found ruin in dissipation, until in the end I came to purify myself by dwelling here.

(the second image, above, was an image in a calendar i bought long ago. when i converted my house into a duplex it got packed away and is nearly inaccessible. it has taken me all this time to find it on the internet. it took years to find the third one too, an amazing vase i saw at the orsay in 1989 and have longed to see again ever since. i have found it in no catalogue, or website, until now since france has put its art collections online. the fourth one is from a book i bought in london in 1969. i have to say, i do not know how i knew this kind of art was so important to me. certainly people were not discussing w heath robinson at that time. my reaction to these illustrations, and to other things, as i've discussed here earlier, really do almost make you believe in past lives. the last one hasn't anything to do with japonisme unless you count the tradition of including copy with image. it's included here because it too took me years to find again, having seen it in a museum exhibition in 1981, and it too influenced me strongly, in many ways. enjoy.)

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