La Vague Du Japonisme: the Effects of Japanese Art on French Art in the Late 19th Century
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“It is in general the unexplored that attracts us…” – Lady Murasaki, The Tale of Genji.
(Lambourne 2005, 10).
A preoccupation with “the other” has always been of interest to the French. In Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes, written in the early 18th century, the French nearly fall over one another in order to gaze upon an Arab traveler in their country. One observer even exclaims,
“ Ah! Ah! Monsieur est Persan! C’est une chose bien extraordinaire! Comment peut-on être Persan!” (Hirch and Thompson 2006, 97). In the second half of the 19th century after the ports of Japan opened, this is exactly what the primary French artists were exclaiming to themselves about the Japanese, “How can one be Japanese!” and in this quandary, they…show more content… Paris quickly became known as the center of Japonisme as more people fell in love with Japanese art culture (Yoko et al. 1998).
French artists began gaining influences from Japanese art, and Japonisme infiltrated their works. The term Japonisme was initially conceived by French art critic Philippe Burty in 1872 to describe the newly found interest of Japanese culture and to “designate a new field of study-artistic, historic, and ethnographic.” It freed Western artists from the restrictions within their own art culture and stylistic tradition by opening up a new array of ideas and outlet for inspiration (ibid). It gave artists a whole new array of subject matter, techniques, and devices such as “the representation of depth and surfaces, the treatment of light and shade, and format and division of the picture plane… the symbolic role of real objects…[and], new poses captured through new means of representation…” (Wichmann 1999, 10).
James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) was among the first artists to purchase Japanese items and in large quantities throughout the 1860’s; one of his more prized possessions was his kimono. At least five of his paintings have Japanese subjects from this time period. While these works do not focus on adopting a Japanese form, they are heavily doused in Japanese content (Janis 1968, JSTOR). In La Japonaise au bain, 1864, a young woman with long