“Aspects of Japonisme”

“Aspects of Japonisme” by Gabriel P. Weisberg discusses how French artists from 1854 to 1910 progressively assimilated Japanese artistic concepts into their work. The Japonisme movement began in the last decade of the 1860’s, where it was encouraged by art critics in newspapers, as well as through the Société du Jing-lar club. Through this secret club, French artists were first exposed to a French painting of a Japanese woman advertising ceramics. This concept is imitated in later French paintings, such as The Golden Screen, and Girl with a Fan. Yet, in these pieces, it depicted seductive European women wearing kimonos and set in naturalistic settings. Despite this, Weisberg adds that artists such as Bracquemond and Manet did not pander to exaggerated stereotypes and seriously studied Japanese print albums. In doing so, Japanese motifs of naturalism- depicting animals, flowers, and common moments were successfully communicated into French ceramics and paintings. Weisberg effectively communicates this visual analysis by placing traditional Japanese and French paintings side by side (for example looking at figures 20 & 21, as well as 22 & 23). In these figures, the viewer can easily understand that later Japonisme artists were attempting to replicate the composition, perceived motifs, and figures of Japanese art. Therefore, Weisberg adheres to his statement that French Japonisme artists gradually became more respectful and educated when imitating Japanese art.

While I can follow Weisberg’s perspective, I find it difficult to think that French Japonisme artists were being respectful of traditional Japanese art. Researching and practicing a craft is acceptable, however imitating the style to this extent insinuates that there is no need for authentic Japanese art. Weisberg’s comment that the Société du Jing-lar’s membership card of Mt. Fujiyama was “humorously based on Japanese prototypes” makes me question their sincerity behind learning more about a different culture.  

Weisberg, Gabriel P. “Aspects of Japonisme.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 62, no. 4, Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975, pp. 120–30, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25152585.

Author: Rachel Park

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