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In the nineteenth century the countries of Europe became ever more closely connected to the rest of the world. Exploration and colonization brought back objects and images that sparked the public's imagination and gave rise to related styles across Europe. The art of China had been an influence on European design starting in the seventeenth century, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a fad for Egyptian design swept Europe in response to archeological discoveries. Starting with the opening of Japan in the 1850s, Japanese art became more readily available to Europeans, and in France it sparked Japonisme.
For most Parisians, Japonisme was no more than a fad, but for printmakers, the influx of Japanese art, Japanese prints in particular, was a bombshell. Henri-Gustave Jossot’s The Wave (1894) humorously expresses the effect of Japanese prints, showing an artist along with his easel and canvas being swept overboard by a Japoniste wave. Jossot no doubt refers to Hokusai’s famous print The Great Wave (1830–1835).
Far more colorful than prints in the European tradition, engagingly focused on the human and natural forms, and skillfully made, Japanese prints were obviously the fruits of a vibrant society. Despite the fact that their texts were impenetrable and their stories unfamiliar, the prints hinted at a rich culture of artists who had approached the same problems of composition, color, and subject as artists in Europe, but had come up with altogether different solutions.
French printmakers were inspired by these images at once recognizable and yet wholly unfamiliar. Their response to Japanese prints ran the gamut from outright copying to quite subtle assimilation of particular color harmonies, interest in patterns, or adoption of similar subject matter. Sometimes the techniques by which Japanese prints are made—or even their size—are borrowed by French artists. The works in this exhibition draw from the Chazen’s collection of prints to compare the works of French printmakers to the Japanese prints that inspired them.
August 20, 5:30 p.m., Chazen Auditorium
Lecture: "The Japanese Influence on French Prints"