japonisme: 7/17/11 - 7/24/11

23 July 2011

the music of wallpaper

while actually reading the text in my copy of 'hidden impressions,' the catalogue for the exhibition of the same name at the MAK in vienna, of instances where the japanese influenced the austrian arts. we'll get back to that catalogue in a future post, but for now, let's follow this little adventure.

i was wildly taken with the two images of japanese endpapers, the cranes on the salmon background and the puppies. sure i had seen a western equivilent, i searched for days to no avail. all of the western endpapers, even those from childrens' books, were, to my eyes anyway, far more rigid by design.

refusing to give up, i started perusing some others of my books. i double-checked the catalogue and all of my other books about design in vienna at that time: nothing. why, i asked myself, and still do, have japanese endpapers in the catalogue with no japonisme version for comparison?

i started on my other books about paper, wallpaper, and had myself an aha moment. i recalled having noticed so many times how actually un-equivalent these matches-up usually are. rarely does a japanese design form get re-interpreted in some into something comparable back and forth. usually, it, like some inherited traits, skips a generation.

but once i found these, not only didn't they surprise me, but they gave me deeper understanding in both sides of the equation. first, we've discussed the lesson that the west learned that caused them to question the validity of any differences between art, decoration, and craft.

no one embraced this concept more strongly than the nabis, for whom there was no less a creative act in creating wallpaper than in painting a painting. much of what we know as paintings are actually bits of a wall-hanging or a screen (see here), but even when the item was a painting itself, it was covered with wallpaper, and, or, the sort of design that hangs in an invisible balance between subject and surround.

in fact, the more one looks at the work of the nabis (here represented by maurice denis, pierre bonnard, and vuillard), the more one sees rhythm, pulse. these pieces do not make a statement, they make a song.

and the songs have continued out in ever widening circles. whistler sued over it; the right to see a surface as something other than flat, the right to name a painting a symphony, a rhapsody, a song.

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17 July 2011


if you google-image emile reiber, you will find only, or almost only, items of domestic use and decor, clocks, vases, and the like covered, each of them, with gorgeous, elaborate, asianesque embellishments. preceding these, however, was leiber's Premier Volume (of which, as far as i could see, there was no Deuxieme) of his albums.
following, you will find a lame, google assisted, translation of a bit of Le Japonisme, the catalogue for l'Orsay's landmark exhibition of the same name in 1989.
i hope the translation makes some sense, and will gladly provide the french to anyone who asks.

In this time of new explorations, style-books for artists began to appear. These presented samples of Japanese ornament for craftsmen to study, or simply copy, thus adding to their repertoires examples of the Japonesque: The books featured replicated objects, as in Albums-Reiber, or, more often, the designs of objects or books found in valuable collections.

An attempt was made as well to feature each in its original context. The artists and designers who created the style-books had as a goal the reproduction of the arts of one spot of the world that they may travel off in any and all unexpected directions.

Japanese art, rapidly becoming more and more popular, began to become the subject of books.

In 1877, the first volume of Albums-Reiber appeared. Emile Reiber, a Japonisant from the start, choose almost half of his images from the items of daily life in the Japanese culture, like tea, combs, or items in bronze.

He also featured caricatures drawn from the Manga of Hokusai (see the little mice), which quickly found themselves being used to decorate plates in the factory Vieillard à Bordeaux. Wisely, Reiber gives these Hokusai manga the figurative title of Encyclopedia so as to ensure that they will be appreciated as valuable for as long as interest in Japonisme continued.

It was also regularly reprinted in Japan. After 1880 M. Blanc du Vernet published a series of pieces on Japanese art, and in 1876 the painter Gustave Moreau did the same.

There are also, in Reiber, entries about Japanese costume; a note on one reads "the head-covering of silken crepe in turquoise blue, recalls the fashionable women of Brittany," thus adding important context. That context can be seen easily in the work of the artists of Pont-Aven, Gauguin or Sérusier, when they paint the Breton in the manner of the Japanese.

In the 1880s, collections devoted solely to Japanese motifs multiplied; editions appeared from Thomas Cutler and George Audsley (A Grammar of Japanese Ornament), and Christopher Dresser (Japan, its Architecture, Arts and Art-Manufacture).

Among the other early books covering Japanese art history were Louis Gonse's L'Art Japonaise in France in 1883, and William Anderson's The Pictorial Arts of Japan in London in 1886. The apotheosis of this movement was the luxurious publication by S. Bing's "Artistic Japan," (1888-1891), a vast collection of images and short articles on Japan by the best specialists of the moment. The range of the nationalities of the contributors revealed the existence of a true international society of lovers Japanese art.

translated by me from the French essay by Genevieve Lacambre

to my eyes, generally depictions of anything japanese by one is not japanese is always marked by it's non-japaneseness. reiber's reenactments are so charming. the same, i should add could be said of any two artists of different cultures; you've seen the japanese portrayals of the westerners who barged in in the 1850s. i want to look at this more fully.

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