Les Hirondelles (The swallows) by Felix Bracquemond

Les Hirondelles, or The swallows, is an 1882 print by French artist Felix Bracquemond (1833-1914). Bracquemond is today celebrated for his efforts to revive the printmaking arts, and for pioneering Japonisme in France. This artistic style greatly influenced the Modernist movement with its familiar names from Manet and Van Gogh to the Impressionists.

Felix Bracquemond, Les Hirondelles (The Swallows), 1882, etching.
Felix Bracquemond, Les Hirondelles (The swallows), 1882, etching.

Japonisme is a term to describe the stylistic influence of Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut printing on European art of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is believed Bracquemond saw the first volume of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) 1814 Hokusai Manga—a fifteen volume compilation of Hokusai’s woodblock-printed sketches—in 1856, and adopted the aesthetic principles of Hokusai’s prints into his own work, thus becoming one of the first artists to introduce ukiyo-e art and style to mainstream Europe of the 19th century.

Modernists were drawn to Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts as they challenged European ideals of perspective, colour, and form in accordance with the Modernists’ own revolutionary artistic pursuits. The highly refined aesthetic of a faded pastel colour palate, asymmetry, flat modelling and dramatic foreshortening of perspective, and visual motifs of birds, plants and figures are characteristic of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and of the Japonisme in France and Europe.

In Bracquemond’s Les Hirondelles, the poetic movements of the swallows across the page—the birds also a common feature of these woodblock prints—wide uncomplicated stretch of lake and sky, and the almost calligraphic strokes of the water reeds demonstrates this stylistic influence. Another feature common to Modernism and its practitioners such as Picasso, is the trompe l’œil, (literally deceive the eye, or simply an optical illusion) seen here where one little swallow seems to fly straight out of the page towards us.

Bianca Arthur-Hull

Special Collections Blogger


Phylis Floyd, Japonisme. Grove Art Online. 2003. Oxford University Press. Date of access 31 Aug. 2020.

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