A Japanese InfluenceFrench Impressionism was a direct reaction to the boorish, factory-like French Academy and its tightly governed style of painting. Largely because of this, the various artists we now associate with Impressionism soaked up outside influences like a sponge, amongst them, photography, scientific colour theory, and the subject matter of the Industrial Revolution, especially trains and train stations. However, it might be that the strangest outside influence to insinuate itself into the Impressionist movement was the art of Japanese prints.
In the late 1800's Japanese society was only just beginning to open up, and trade with the western world was sparse or non-existent. How could it be then that the dramatic diagonals and asymmetrical compositions that so delight the eye in the art of Japanese prints came to influence artist like Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others? Actually, it happened largely by accident. One of the first and most valuable commodities exported from the islands were fragile Japanese porcelains. These exquisite art objects had to be packed very carefully to survive the torturous sea voyage to Europe and eventually Paris, that hotbed of Impressionist insurrection. You guessed it, those precious art objects came wrapped in another form of artwork, discarded Japanese prints. One man's trash is another man's treasure.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
25 October 1997