Trade between Europe and Japan goes back several centuries, beginning in 1542 when a Portuguese ship was blown off course and reached the southern tip of Japan. However, it was not until after 1854, when American Commodore Matthew Perry opened Japan to trade with the West, that Japanese crafts and works of art began to be exported in large quantities to the West. In addition, the Japanese presence at many international fairs and exhibitions, such as the International Exhibition in London in 1862 and the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris, introduced the European public to Japanese wares. By the late 1860s, the importation of Japanese goods had an important and complex effect on Western fashion, handicrafts, architecture, art, and aesthetics, an effect first termed Japonisme, or “Japanism,” by the French critic Philippe Burty in 1872. Japonisme was seen not only as a fashion for Japanese goods, but among artists as a preference for the subject matter, style, and patterning of Japanese art, especially woodblock prints. On a deeper level, the infiltration of Japanese compositional techniques and bold color juxtapositions into the work of artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Edouard Vuillard played an important role in European art’s move toward abstraction and expressionism.
Andrew C. Weislogel
Assistant Curator / Master Teacher