Japonisme – a french interpretation of a Japanese aesethetic

Japonisme style of decorative arts

A French term used to describe a variety of European borrowings from Japanese art was Japonisme. Collectors and artists alike responded to Japan’s exotic and refined products shortly after the country opened trade ties in 1853. Exhibitions at London’s 1862 International Exhibition and subsequent World Fairs widened interest in its decorative arts. The French generally first grasped the potential of Japanese precedents among painters and printmakers.

Interest in Japanese Art

With the opening of trade with Japan following the expedition of the American Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853. The interest in Japanese art in the West, particularly in France, had started to develop. The artist Fรฉlix Bracquemond, a friend of the Goncourt brothers, were among the first interpreters of the style.

A new area of research

The French critic, collector and printmaker Philippe Burty designated a new area of research in 1872: artistic, historical and ethnographic, including decorative objects with Japanese designs (similar to the Chinoiserie of the 18th century), paintings of Japanese scenes, and Western paintings, prints and decorative arts inspired by Japanese aesthetics. Japonaiserie, the depiction of Japanese subjects or artefacts in a Western-style, was differentiated by scholars in the 20th century from Japonisme, the more profound influence of Japanese aesthetics on Western art.

1867 Paris’Exposition Universelle

At the 1867 Paris’Exposition Universelle,’ the passion for the style was enhanced by the profusion of Japanese prints and goods. Japanese motifs and images were adopted by Japanese exponents and imitated their ceramic techniques. When Thรฉodore Deck pioneered the emaux-en-relief method of enamel glazing in rich, saturated colours in 1874, the porcelain factories adopted the method. The huge facility in Bordeaux, owned by Albert and Charles Viellard, was one of these factories.

The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine) – James McNeill Whistler

To see the Princess mounted in Whistler’s Peacock room, visit A Brief History of the Peacock Room

Courtesan: after Eisen – Vincent van Gogh

The Courtesan illustrates Van Gogh’s interest in Japan and Japanese prints. He based his painting on a work by the Japanese artist Kesai Eisen, which had been used for the cover of a special number of the magazine Paris Illustrรฉ.

Flowering plum orchard: after Hiroshige – Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh made this painting after a Japanese print by Hiroshige from the extensive collection he shared with his brother. He closely followed the composition of Hiroshige, but did not stick to the exact colours of the original. The Oriental characters he painted on the frame were derived from a Japanese example.

Variations in Flesh Colour and Green – The Balcony – James McNeill Whistler

Google Arts & Culture features content from over 2000 leading museums and archives who have partnered with the Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online.

Fulls de la vida – Santiago Rusiรฑol

Google Arts & Culture features content from over 2000 leading museums and archives who have partnered with the Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online.

The Japanese Salon, Villa Hรผgel, Hietzing, Vienna – Rudolf von Alt

This salon exhibits a riot of Chinese/Japanese motifs. The walls are hung with wallpaper panels decorated with leaves, birds and large ceramic figures. A lantern, suspended from a palmette canopy centered in the ceiling, is designed in a large circular fish scale pattern. The black japannned and cane furniture is typical of the Victorian period.

April : (The Green Gown) – Childe Hassam

Despite academic training at the Acadรฉmie Julian in Paris, Hassam gravitated to more avant-garde styles. He returned to America as a full-fledged “impressionist” and proceeded to receive acclaim for his city street scenes and American flag series.


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Morgan, A. Japonisme. In The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 15 Feb. 2021, from https://www-oxfordreference-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/view/10.1093/acref/9780191807671.001.0001/acref-9780191807671-e-674.

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‘Exposition Universelle’ Paris 1900 – Encyclopedia of Design

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