Japonisme movement

Japan today is a successful and well-developed nation, leading in the fields of scientific research, particularly technology, machinery and biomedical research. Thou its past which are embedded in history books and archives has left its mark on this nation, both good and bad. Check out the video for a really quick pick up on Japan’s history.




Even so through history, its cultural heritage has been passed down from one generation to the next. One of those cultural practice would be Japanese art which has managed to survive, adapt and improve over the past decades. They cover a extensive range of art styles and media which includes ancient pottery, sculpture, ink painting and calligraphy on silk and paper, ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints, kiri-e, kirigami, origami, and more recent years manga which is a modern Japanese cartooning, anime, comics, along with a many of other types of works of art.  

Today, Japanese influenced art and media can be seen all around the world both commercially and aesthetically. This influence is known as Japonism which is defined as the influence of Japanese art, fashion and aesthetics on Western culture (Le Dictionnaire, 2013).

Trade between Europe and Japan goes back several centuries. In 1854, Japanese crafts and works of art began to be exported in large quantities to the western parts of the world when American Commodore Matthew Perry opened Japan to trade with the West. From there the Japanese works were presented at many international fairs and exhibitions.(Office of the Historian, 2016).

The term Japonism dates back in 1872 when Philippe Burty, a French art critic coined the term to describe the vogue in Japanese art then current in Europe and contributed to the popularization of this influence (Weisberg, 1975). The Japanese wood-block prints and paintings known as ukiyo-e became a major source of inspiration for many European Impressionist painters where the Japanese motifs and styles can found in Western artist works like Toulouse-Lautrec posters and Van Gogh paintings such as ‘Le Père Tanguy’ and Almond Blossom.(We will see a couple more exhibits in the following post).

Japonisme was seen not only as a display for Japanese goods, but among artists as a preference for the subject matter, style, and patterning of Japanese art, especially woodblock prints as quoted by Andrew C. Weislogel (2016) a Assistant Curator / Master Teacher at the Cornell University. Weilogel also explained on a deeper level that the works of artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Edouard Vuillard and the infiltration of Japanese compositional techniques and bold color combinations in their work played an important role in European art’s move toward abstraction and expressionism. Later in the years, the characteristic that could be found on the famous ukiyo-e went on to be a major influence on the development of Art Nouveau and Cubism.

Bill Wurtz, 2016. History of Japan-Youtube. [ONLINE VIDEO] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh5LY4Mz15o. [ Accessed 7 June 2016].

Weisberg, Gabriel P, 1975. Aspects of Japonisme. [PDF] Available at: http://www.brill.com/sites/default/files/ftp/downloads/36428_Introduction.pdf. [Accessed 7 June 2016].

Office of the Historian, 2016. The United States and the Opening to Japan, 1853. [ONLINE] Available at: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1830-1860/opening-to-japan. [Accessed 9 June 2016].

Cornell University, 2016. JAPONISME: EUROPEAN ARTISTS AND THE ALLURE OF JAPAN. [ONLINE] Available at: http://museum.cornell.edu/exhibitions/japonisme-european-artists-and-allure-japan [Accessed 8 June 2016].


Japonisme movement