Edo period is the period in the history of Japan from 1603 to 1867. It lasted from the founding of the Tokugawa shogunate until its direct elimination and restoration of imperial rule. The name comes from the city of Edo (modern Tokyo), the main residence of shogunate and political-administrative center of Japan at 17th – the mid-19th century (Department of Asian Art). The period is sometimes called the Tokugawa period – by the name of the ruling family. Edo period was characterized by relatively stable and peaceful life for the Japanese, the flourishing of samurai and urban cultures, Christianity and ban of contacts with the Western world. It may seem strange that despite limited contacts with the Western world, the art of Edo period has made a significant influence on the Western art tradition. The country isolation and distance resulted in the fact that Japanese art became popular and desirable in the West and influenced the work of many Western artists, starting from literature and to sword making.
While foreign policy during the Edo was characterized by certain reactionary ending legal exclusion of Japan from the rest of the world, in the internal life of the country it was a time of unprecedented prosperity of the economy, agriculture, and, in particular, arts. Most areas of the original Japanese art from Kabuki theater and poetry haiku tradition to wear fine clothes, kimono, entered the phase of its peak during the Edo period. In fact, the characteristic knowledge of Japanese art in the West comes from Tokugawa period. The pieces of Japanese art seldom reached the West. Usually, artworks were sold illegally to Denmark sailors on the island of Nagasaki – the only allowed place to contact with the West (Department of Asian Art). Therefore, due to the isolation of the country, Edo period became influential for the Western art tradition after its official ending in 1967. In 1968, after opening the borders and restoration of imperial rule, the entire Edo legacy became available for the Western public.
Japanese art quickly became known in the West and have had a significant impact on it. There have been early contacts at the beginning of Tokugawa period, when Japan was still opened for the rest of the world. For example, the Dutch traded with Japan through the port of Nagasaki. The trade objects that reached Europe in the 17th century were mostly works of ornamental art – porcelain and lacquer items. They were collected, perceived with curiosity and copied in different ways. Anyway, such decorative items of export did not reflect the nature and quality of Japanese art and even formed the Japanese unflattering picture of the Western taste.
For the first time Western art experienced a direct impact of Japanese Edo art in Europe in 1862 during a time of great international exhibitions in London. Presented at the Paris exhibition five years later, Japanese woodcuts again aroused great interest. Immediately the works of Japanese Edo artists appeared in collections of famous impressionists, such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and others embracing the Japanese color prints as a revelation. In addition, there was a slight, but always recognizable influence of Japanese prints on the Impressionists. In fact, Japanese Edo art has a made a particular influence on decorative art and painting, aside from other art forms.
The art of ukiyo-e deserved a separated mentioning in the context of its influence on the Western painting tradition, since such Edo art form made the greatest influence on Western art (Department of Asian Art). Usually, the ukiyo-e concept represents popular and widespread genre – painting, and in particular, engraving. The term ukiyo-e, borrowed from Buddhist philosophy, means literally “world of sorrow” – it is called the world of samsara, the world of transitory illusion, where the human destiny is characterized by sorrow, suffering, sickness and death. Such world, in terms of traditionally-minded Japanese, is both illusory and transitory, like a dream, and its inhabitants are no more real than the creatures from the world of dreams. In the end, such art was gradually replaced by photograph, but prints in the style of ukiyo-e became very popular in Western Europe and America. It should also be noted that in Tokugawa Japan ukiyo-e has long been considered a “low” genre and, as a result, a huge amount of works was lost.
It is noteworthy that the Japanese themselves looked at the ukiyo-e as full-fledged works of art after foreigners “opened” their eyes on its beauty. As it was said earlier, the main impact on the Western culture dates back to the end of Edo period, at the end of 19th century. The introduction of Japanese art has been fruitful for the Western artists, not only in terms of creation of a new plastic language. It served as a visual enrichment experience, which helped them open the existence of another type of creative imagination, the ability to create radically new perspectives on familiar and everyday events.
The opening of Japan to foreigners in 1868 has generated enthusiasm for Western things and forced the Japanese to turn away from their own rich cultural and artistic heritage. At that time, many beautiful paintings and sculptures have been sold and were kept in Western museums and private collections. Such items finally introduced Japan to the West and stimulated the interest in traveling to the Far East. Interest in the East in general has caused the organization of exhibitions of Japanese art, taken from Japanese public and private collections and brought to America and Europe.
At the end of the 19th century, many artists of Art Nouveau style turned their sights to the East, especially to Japan, in search of inspiration. After 250 years of isolation, Japan opened its doors to the West, and at the end of the 19th century, the French critic Philippe Burty described the new style, which arose under the influence of Edo Japanese art – Japonisme. It became a new direction in the European art of the 19th century, developed under the influence of Japanese color woodcut ukiyo-e art and crafts. Motives, equipment, and supply of color in the Japanese art reflected in the works of impressionist painters. Japonisme had considerable influence on the art and Art Nouveau and Cubism. The main features of Japonisme were natural themes (animals, insects, plants), the complex two-dimensional pattern on the surface, a simple color palette.
The interest of the Western public to the Japanese decorative art, especially Japanese prints, resulted in increased selling of art objects, museum exhibitions, international fairs, and, of course, much discussion in the press. With the growing attention to the woodcut, porcelain and other works of art from Japan, the European masters in products grew the number of natural motifs, including animals, insects and plants. Two-dimensional complex patterns, typical for Japanese woodcut artists, such as Hiroshige, impressed many Western artists of that time.
Japonisme has infected many artists. Monet, for example, decorated the walls of his apartment with Japanese prints; Manet willingly portrayed various items of Japanese art in his pictures; Whistler wore kimono while working in his workshop. Artist Henri Riviere, in imitation of Hiroshige (author of “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji”), created a series of prints “Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower”.
After the opening in 1871 in Paris the art gallery of the Far East by Samuel Bing, the offer of Japanese prints of Edo style was widened. From 1888 to 1891 years, Bing has released the magazine “Le Japon Artistique”, devoted to Japanese art, which had an authoritative reputation. Vincent Van Gogh was a frequent customer in the shop – he collected Japanese prints. He frequently copied the oil paint and style of Hiroshige artworks to become closer to Japanese tradition. Grace crisp black contours and delicate color combinations, according to the artist, are absolutely consistent with the peculiarities of children’s perception.
The graphic style of children’s book illustrator Walter Crane was a reflection of his interest in the art of Japanese prints, particularly Edo art, with its linearity and the local color scheme. Crane tried to understand what attracts children in graphics and art in general. Many artists are of the opinion that the children do not pay much attention to light and shade, and a three-dimensional mapping of objects. Anyway, in his illustrations, Crane tried to hit and encouraged the imagination of children, using bright colors and crisp pictures.
Degas, Manet, Monet, Bernard and Bonnard were eager admirers and collectors of Japanese prints, as well as Edmond Goncourt, who wrote in his “Diary” that passion for Japanese art enveloped everything from painting to fashion. In fact, in the paintings of the impressionists of the time include common element of Edo culture attributes, such as kimonos and screens. Western artists also borrowed prints, stylistic devices and plastic solutions: locality and purity of color, flatness, contour emphasizing, spontaneous angles, curved lines, and asymmetry. In addition, topics, which are common today, and were the nature of scandals at that time, were adopted. For example, the life of prostitutes, the woman behind the toilet, the theater, and the daily life of citizens. Another manifestation of Japonisme was the emergence in the works of Claude Monet’s series of paintings “Japanese Bridge” and “Nymph”, as well as a series of paintings “Mont Sainte-Victoire” painted by Cézanne.
Talking about American artists, J. Whistler was the first among American artists to feel passion for Edo art. The Japanese color woodcuts attracted his attention and were realized in composite solutions, expressive angles, and joyful colors. His passion for the exotic East, Whistler tried to convey in his works “The Princess and The Land of Porcelain”, “Caprice in Purple and Gold. Golden Screen” and “The Village”. Another American artist Mary Cassatt experimented with a variety of methods, which often led to unexpected results. For example, drawing inspiration from Japanese master engraver, in 1891, Mary Cassatt produces a series of ten color etchings in the Japanese style, which are exhibited in the gallery of Durand-Ruel, including “Woman Bathing”.
Talking about decorative art, Edo art has found its impact in porcelain, for example, porcelain China set known as Lambert-Rousseau (Francois-Eugene Rousseau was the designer, the owner of Paris store for Edo glassware, one of the pioneers of Japonisme) is one of the best examples of penetration of Japanese art in the tradition of Western decorative arts. Impact of Japanese painting is particularly felt in the drawings of flowers, pictures of animals, birds, fish, and landscapes.
Summing up, it can be seen that despite the limitation and privacy of Edo period, Japanese art of that time became a catalyst for the development of new artistic styles and picturesque systems in Western art. It had a significant influence on the Impressionists, justifying all their painting traditions, plots and color schemes. Moreover, it predetermined the further development of Western art, significantly affecting the aesthetics of symbolism and art nouveau.