Guest Post: Japonisme by Lauren Fliegelman

Guest Blogger: Lauren Fliegelman, fourth year Art History/Journalism major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Spent a semester studying the Italian Renaissance masters in Rome, 2009. Current area of research: Manet and Japanese Influences. See her previous post on Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta of 1515 from earlier this month!


Lady with Fans, Portrait of Nina de Callias, 1873

James Tissot, La Japonaise au Bain, 1864

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Caprice in Purple and Gold, No. 2: The Golden Screen, 1864

Claude Monet, La Japonaise, 1876

Alfred Stevens, The Duchess (Formerly known as The Blue Dress), 1880

Georges Croegaert, The Reader, 1888

The opening of Japan to the West in 1853 after years of nearly complete isolation, created the cultural phenomenon of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe referred to as “Japonisme”. A term coined by the French art critic Philippe Burty in 1876, it describes the marked European fascination with Japanese objects and culture that previous to this had only been available for two hundred years to a few sanctioned Dutch trading ships. A further distinction was later made between Japonisme and Japonaiserie to describe the display of Japanese items in art.

The Modernist and Impressionist artists particularly embraced this previously unseen and exotic imagery, specifically incorporating it into their works. Most famously and almost always covered in any introductory art history course, Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket of 1872 and his facetious Peacock Room of 1876 in the home of Frederick Leyland, are notorious for their implementation of Japanese iconography. However a more thorough treatment of the subject will lead one to other artists who employed the Japonisme trend such as Manet, Monet, Degas, Tissot, Cassatt, Toulouse-Lautrec,, Renoir, Van Gogh, Bracquemond, Vuillard, Solomon, through the symbolists Munch and Klimt.

An interest in Oriental objects and fineries had taken shape in Europe with the opening of the Orient (widely accepted to include Turkey, the Middle East, and Northern Africa) earlier in the century. Garnering particular popularity amongst European women in France and England, Japanese fans, various Kimono styles, screens, wood blocks, ceramics, and small oddities or nick-nacks became hot commodities. Famed artists, literary critics, and elite women would race to Madame Desoye’s Shop on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris to pick and choose form her famous selection of Japanese objects.

This leads me to transgress into an exploration of collecting, collections, and their display. In the most typical sense, collections of art are obviously displayed on the walls of museums, homes, dorm rooms, or other strategic or personal spaces. We as collectors take pride in our accumulations. We (the individual, family, institution, etc.) like to define ourselves or produce some meaning from our collections. Their display and (sometimes depending upon the collection, private) safekeeping can have just as much significance as the collection itself. So I ask, what drives us to collect the things we covet? How do we use display to communicate some greater meaning?

In the case of Japonisme and Japonaiserie, acquisition and display took on a rather artistic and feminized essence. Below are some of my favorite, and in my opinion most intriguing, examples of the display of Japanese objects within the female portrait.

Best, Lauren Fliegelman

1 comment:

  1. i love the colors in stevens' blue dress. it interests me too that so many women (upper class no doubt) were painted in kimono with fans!