Japonisme

Cultural Crossings between Japan and the West


A broad survey of the West's extraordinary love affair with Japan.


Lionel Lambourne


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About the book

Lionel Lambourne tells the remarkable story of the precarious dialogue between Japan and the West in the sixteenth century, in a fluent and engaging narrative that focuses on the human drama – often amusing, sometimes tragic and cumulatively poignant – of the individual personalities caught up in the magnetism between these momentous cultures.

From the moment of the very first contact in the sixteenth century, Japan has always possessed an irresistible fascination for the West. This was, if anything, increased when Japan closed its borders in 1638, and for over 200 years the only contact was through a small colony of Dutch traders who were permitted to live on the tiny island of Deshima in Nagasaki Bay.

After 1858 when full trade was resumed, a wave of 'Japanomania' swept across Europe and America. The 1862 'Great Exhibition' in London was the first to display a wide range of Japanese goods in the west. Visited by hundreds of thousands of people, the prints, ceramics and lacquer work became the height of fashion.

After an introduction telling the story of the first contacts, the long isolation and the events leading to the renewal of free trade in Japan, he turns to capture the excitement in Europe as artists – led by Whistler and the Impressionists – discovered Japanese prints and artefacts, and began to incorporate their influence. The story spreads far beyond fine art to follow this creative mania into the decorative arts, interior design, furnishings, fashion accessories and, in turn, literature and theatre.

With his inimitable style and his rich store of well-chosen anecdotes, the author brings peculiar personalities to life and conveys a vivid impression of the enthusiasm that Japonisme generated. Chapters are devoted to travel, Japonisme in America, landscape and gardens, and even the curious subject of ghosts.

The visual impact alone of Japan on the West was enormous, as is expressed wonderfully in the rich and varied selection of 250 illustrations. These assimilate many original Japanese prints and artefacts juxtaposed with the works they directly inspired, as well as a vast spectrum of influences on the decorative arts, posters, advertisements, book illustrations, fashion, cartoons, photography, gardens and architecture.

With its lively text full of human interest and closely supported by a wealth of beautiful illustrations, Japonisme offers the perfect introduction to this popular subject for the widest possible audience, whilst remaining an invaluable reference source for teachers and students.




In The Press
'Beautiful and revelatory…a celebration of the West’s love affair with Japan and that country’s reciprocal interest in the West…sumptuous illustrations.' (Metro, London)
 
'The perfect introduction to a fascinating and visually stimulating subject.' (Frank Whitford, Art Quarterly)
 
'A gorgeously illustrated account of an ongoing – and extraordinarily fruitful – affair between Japan and the West.' (V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) magazine)
 
'A fluent and engaging narrative…With his inimitable style and his rich store of well-chosen anecdotes, the author brings the personalities to life, and conveys a vivid impression of the enthusiasm that Japonisme generated…With its lively text full of human interest and closely supported by a wealth of beautiful illustrations, Japonisme will provide the perfect introduction to this popular subject for the widest possible audience, and will also be a valuable reference source for teachers and students.' (The Good Read)




About the author(s)
Lionel Lambourne was head of paintings at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, from 1986–1993. He has traveled widely as curator of exhibitions in Britain, Germany and Japan, and has had a long-standing interest in the dialogue between Japan and the West. His books include The Aesthetic Movement (1996) and Victorian Painting (1999), both published by Phaidon.


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