The Japanese Style

"We must gratefully remember Japan, a land whose wonderful art . . . first pointed out to us the right path. But," Otto Eckmann's preface to a series of Jugendstil designs then adds, only England knew how to assimilate and transform this wealth of new ideas and to adapt them to its innate national character, thus deriving real profit from the Japanese style . . ."

How this came about has been told many times: how the engraver Bracquemond discovered some Japanese colored woodcuts in 1856 which had been used as wrapping paper; how he communicated his enthusiasm to Baudelaire, Manet, the Goncourt brothers, and Degas; how Whistler who, until 1859, had studied in Paris, then brought to London his love for Japanese art and, around 1863, painted the Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine, a major work among his japonneries. In 1862, Manet had painted Zola against a background of Japanese decorations and colored woodcuts which later appeared also in paintings by Degas, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. In 1862, shops dealing in Japanese and Chinese objects were first opened: La Porte Chinoise in Paris, and Farmer and Rogers' Oriental Warehouse in London. Farmer and Rogers had taken over the stocks that Japan had sent to London for the International Exhibition of 1862--the first Western exhibition where the Japanese Empire was represented.

On the advice of his friend William Morris, the manager of Farmer and Rogers, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, then founded his own firm in 1975. The new firm was successful, mainly on account of its Oriental and Oriental-inspired fabrics with their light colors and flat, stylized patterns. Its success was so great that in Germany, a national lamentations were to be heard concerning the man importation of English materials for decoration." And in Italy, where Art Nouveau was never really able to gain a footing and remained an imported style, the term "Stile Liberty" was invented. S. Bing, whose shop in Paris, L' Art Nouveau, gave its name to the whole style, had likewise begun as an importer of Japanese arts and crafts. He also was the owner of one of the most important private collections of japonnerie, and, after 1888, published the series of his Japanischer Formenschatz in German, French, and English. To those who feel an interest in the future of our applied arts" or who "are doing creative work" in this field, Bing promised, in the preface, that "among these forms, they will find examples worthy in every respect of being followed."

The Japanese element became so inherent to the mature style of Art Nouveau that only in rare cases can one distinguish or separate it from the entire movement. In 1888, Louis Gonse wrote on Japanese art: "A drop of their blood has mixed with our blood and no power on earth can eliminate it." Even where Art Nouveau refers directly back to Japanese art, it is at the same time founded on works of an intermediate phase in which, during the process of long years, a synthesis of the Japanese and the European elements had been achieved and remained decisive in every respect.

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