Last days to see Japonisme exhibition
The National Gallery of Victoria’s current exhibition Japonisme: Japan and the Birth of Modern Art (closing on 28th October) explores and showcases the influence of Japanese art in the West, with displays of art from England, Paris, the United States and even Australia.
Japan opened up its borders to the world in 1854, being forced to end its 200-year-long self-imposed isolation by the United States. This created a new phenomenon midway through the 19th century, with an influx of Japanese-influenced art in Western culture in what was coined ‘Japonsime’ by the French. Japonisme developed into a craze for collecting all things Japanese, including woodblocks, ceramics, bronzes, as well as everyday goods such as fans, parasols and kimonos.
The International Exhibition of 1862 in London marked the beginning of Japonsime. Japanese culture began to appear not only art exhibitions but also within the domestic sphere of fashionable homes, with items such as folding screens, lanterns, Japanese paintings and porcelain vases beginning to decorating people’s homes. Moreover, Western artists began to experiment with the use of Japanese composition techniques such as asymmetry, abstraction, flatness of the picture plane and stylised lines in their works. Japanese fervour was originally associated with the wealthy, as they could afford to import expensive materials to wear such as silk, or adorn their houses with decorative arts.
The Baillieu Library contributed two rare books to the exhibition. The first, Artistic Japan, is a monthly journal established by Siegfried Bing (1838-1905), an art dealer from Paris, which explored and promoted Japanese art. The journal would commission artworks and articles about Japanese art and culture from artists, critics and collectors. On display at the NGV is the first volume of Artistic Japan, from 1888. The journal ran for four years, and was published in German and French as well as English, thus having a wide audience.
The second item from the Baillieu Library is the second volume of the book L’Art Japonais (Japanese Art). It was published in 1883, and was a leading study of Japanese art, featuring essays on different artistic techniques, and decorated with woodblock prints, photographs and line drawings. L’Art Japonais was written by French writer, art historian, critic and collector Louis Gonse, who, not surprisingly, was also a leading Japoniste. The book is considered one of the most prolific early European works on Japanese art.