japonisme: tis a gift

27 April 2008

tis a gift

When the Japanese ports were opened to Europe in the nineteenth century, the Ukiyo-e prints gave the western world "a glimpse of Japanese life" and became, with their “simplicity of line and large flat areas of colour, a major influence on the more innovative European painters.” 1

The influence of Japanese art on western painters is known as ‘Japonisme’. This is not to be confused with ‘Japonaiserie’ which is the western interest in the exotic, decorative, or fantastic qualities of Japanese art for their novelty value. 2

Japonisme is not a style. According to Wichmann, “it does not lend itself to being used as a concept in place of a style; and it cannot be pinned down to a specific period.” It is rather, the influence of the (then) new ways of seeing the world that the Ukiyo-e prints, and then the Japanese paintings provided.

It caused a “decisive re-evaluation” in the ways western painters had been looking at the world. 3

The influence of Japanese art was not restricted to just ‘simplicity of line and large flat areas of colour’ but was also manifest in the other artistic ‘devices’ that provided unfamiliar solutions to ways of seeing and representing space and forms and how they relate to the apparent world.

(As Chisaburo cautions: “it is often very difficult to determine in what respect and how far Japanese influence extended”, and…“it is sometimes difficult to be persuaded of a Japanese source when an equally good and more accessible European one is at hand.”

However, as Henry Moore says, “I suppose everything which one appreciates must have some influence even though one isn’t (always) aware of it.” 2

Shore W. Ukiyo-e, Castle, New Jersey, 1980. 1
Chisaburo, Y. Japonisme in Art - An International Symposium,
Committee for the Year 2000, Tokyo, 1980.
Wichmann S. Japonisme, Harmony Books, New York, 1981. 3

from Virginia Hodgkinson's master's thesis (pdfs).

here's my process as a hunter gatherer, spending all day searching for images, then squirreling them away into intimately labeled folders. these were in the 'simplies' folder. the west entered the wonderful stage of extraordinarily simple images as part of their enchantment with the un-victorian, un-rococo, un-ungepatched japanese work. when i saw the blue bicycle, i knew it was time for the simplies folder.



Blogger Lynne Rutter said...

excelent post. thanks for comiling all the thes images- they illustrate your point perfectly.

27 April, 2008 20:01  
Blogger Princess Haiku said...

This introduction is written with great clarity, Lotusgreen.

27 April, 2008 22:20  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thank you so much, lynne. that's what i always try for, and am delighted to hear that you think i've gotten it right.

thanks princess. i was glad to find it. it's information i've posted time and time again, but each time new perspectives are added.

27 April, 2008 22:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


these are absolutely beautiful in their simplicity (no pun, absolutely, intended!!) I have always been drawn to the serenity of japanese spaces and lack of 'stuff' .... these images bring that serenity to mind.

Yet, true - they have a western flavor as well ...!! However, you will be surprised, I had a gorgeous, intricate Japanese woodblock print for a year as my laptop screen saver: it depicted a bath house with englishmen in the background playing cards whilst sitting robes .... beautiful women sashaying towards the baths in the back ground and of course the requisite 'Lord' with his swashbuckling demeanor .... i received so many compliments on it.

your site is always a wondrous place to visit! and thank you for the sweet compliment and link ... for you are 'simply' kindness - a rarity.

lady blue

30 April, 2008 13:00  

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hi, and thanks so much for stopping by. i spend all too much time thinking my own thoughts about this stuff, so please tell me yours. i thrive on the exchange!

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