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Japonisme: Pictorical Revolution, Dissemination, and Cross-fertilization

By Béa Aaronson

Degas Utamaro Combing Hair

What is Japonisme? It is a French term that was first used by Jules Claretie in his book L’Art Francais in 1872. It refers to the influence of Japanese art on Western art. Influence? I would rather say “frenzy” or “upheaval.” The artists of the Far East had a completely different aesthetic approach, which not only marked a break with Western painting convention, but enthralled Western artists and energized them to change the face of Western art forever. With its exquisite palette of soft, delicious, or intense pure colors, new perspectives, new compositions, light without shadows (or very few), which created flatness with its new techniques, this great wave of Japanese artistic energy swept through Europe in the 1880s and 1890s.

After a brief yet substantial Japanese historical background, and an introduction to the Japanese art of Manga, Shunga, Ukiyo-e and Nishiki-e through the works of Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro to name but a few, we shall look closely at all sorts of applied arts (ceramics, glassware, textiles, wallpaper, book covers, fonts, furniture, jewelry, etc.) which definitely exude a Japanese flavor, the organic Art Nouveau flavor! And then, of course, we shall look at the works of Manet, Degas, Caillebotte, Cézanne, Mary Cassatt, Tissot, Whistler, Vuillard, Bonnard, Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Monet. One way or another, they all drank at the source of Japanese art. The Impressionist and Post-Impressionist revolutions would not have taken place without the Japanese creative energy.

But what are we talking about when we speak of Japanese creative energy? Subject matters? Motifs? Style? A philosophy? There is an important difference to establish between Japonisme and Exoticism. To paint a woman dressed in a kimono but still keeping an occidental style is exotic for some, Japonisme for others. Speaking of Japonisme, some will think of the ornamental richness, the decorative inventiveness, the intensity of pure colors, while others will focus on the simplicity, the purity, the rejection of décor, the peaceful calm, and sense of silence. Both emanate from Japanese art. Some will think of colors, others of lines. Maybe we should speak of Japonisme with an “S” to better honor the plurality of its Occidental perception and appropriation. I shall reveal to you all the different degrees of this artistic encounter. With hundreds of illustrations, you will be able to savor this feast of dissemination and cross-fertilization. One of the better facets of our human adventure!

“Japonisme: Pictorical Revolution, Dissemination, and Cross-Fertilization,” will be presented at La Ostra Roja, a Casa Verde Annex, on Wednesday, August 27, 4:30 and 6:30pm. Please reserve at 121-10 26 or San Jorge 45, colonia San Antonio.

“Japonisme: Pictorical Revolution,
Dissemination, and Cross-fertilization”
Wed, Aug 27, 4:30 and 6:30pm
La Ostra Roja
A Casa Verde Annex
San Jorge 45
Colonia San Antonio (off Refugio Sur)
130 pesos per person
Reservations: 121-1026 or

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