History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 2

Zoom lecture



10 & 11 March 2021


The Impact of Japan on French Art


C. Monet, La Japonaise (Camille Monet), 1876

Boston, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Closed to the West since 1641, Japan, forced by the United States, accepted trade treaties in the mid-19th century. One of the consequences for Westerners was the discovery of a new artistic universe. Japanism was thus born out of the fascination exerted by the books, prints and "industrial arts" of these distant islands.


At a time when a new generation of artists was questioning the rules and requirements of 19th century academic painting, they were seeking to renew their formal language and turning away from the idealized ancient Greek statuary that artists had taken as their model since the Renaissance.


The Japanese prints of the masters of the ukiyo-e (Pictures of the Floating World), discovered in particular during world exhibitions in London (1862) and Paris (1867, 1878 and 1889), will arouse a real craze among these painters and become a new source of inspiration. 


Yet, at the center of the history of modernism in art, the question of its sources is often neglected. The influence of Japanese prints is nevertheless a major element in the revival of painting and a determining factor in many essential stages that lead art to its modernity as this conference will show.


Often considered the first modernist, Manet was also one of the first to integrate the lessons from Japanese prints into his works. He will be followed by Degas, Monet, Cassatt, van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, the Nabis...

Le Divan japonais, affiche de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

E. Manet, Emile Zola, 1868, Paris, musée d'Orsay

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