Japanese vase/ Tiffany & Co., ca. 1880/ Courtesy of Oscar Humphries

Oscar Humphries presents Japonism

This exhibition celebrates masterpieces of Japonism by some of the greatest makers of the period (1880–1920). The influence that Japanese prints, paintings, decorative art, and the half-imagined Japanese way of living had on the Impressionist and modern art movements is well documented. Japan was the central aesthetic bedrock—new and “exotic”—upon which Impressionism and its satellite movements were built. The year 1858 saw the beginning of diplomatic relations between France and Japan, and this hitherto closed country began to open up. The European interpretation of Japan at that time differed, of course, from reality. Western artists and makers conjured up a Japan that was neither Eastern nor Western, but a romantic amalgam of the two.

The decorative arts were transformed under Japonism. An emphasis on nature, whether literal or stylistic, took root and later blossomed into the biomorphism of Art Nouveau. In France, Sevres and Baccarat working in ceramic and crystal made countless pieces inspired by Japanese abstraction and pattern respectively. In the United Kingdom, Christopher Dresser and Charles Rennie Mackintosh became the great protagonists of Japonism. Dresser traveled to Japan and his 1882 book, Japan: Its Architecture, Art, and Art Manufactures, was widely read. It was Dresser who bought Japanese art for Tiffany & Co., which became the template for many of their designs of this period. Works by Sevres, Dresser, and Tiffany & Co. are shown together to tell the story of Japonism on both sides of the Atlantic.