永遠のふたり 白洲次郎と正子




The truth about ‘Japonisme’ in France, the epicentre of Japanophilia. Paris-based curator explains

Japonisme, a term coined by the French art critic and collector Philippe Burty in 1872, grew from the idealization of Japanese art and culture as it was introduced to the West following the opening of Japan in the 1850s.

Interestingly, it was the Japanese decorative arts, along with ukiyo-e – in Japan (dis)regarded as commercial art for the lower classes at the time – that specifically came to represent the essence of Japanese art to the Western eye and left the biggest influence on both the fine and the decorative arts in the West.

Promoted by a group of Paris-based art dealers, collectors, critics and artists through exhibitions, books, journals, establishments of museums, as well as the world exhibitions, Japonisme took a strong hold of Paris that would become the epicentre of the Japan-mania in the second half of the 19th century.

As Japan opened its ports to trade with the Western nations, a stream of exports floated to Europe and North America – besides tea and silk, it was porcelain, lacquerware, bronzes, ukiyo-e prints and books, as well as antiques and contemporary decorative arts manufactured specifically for the Western market.

As early as 1857, there were tea and curio shops in Paris selling objects from Japan. Among the early shops were la Porte Chinoise at 36 rue Vivienne as well as that of Mr and Mrs Désoye’s on 220 rue de Rivoli which opened in 1863. In the 1870s, these were joined by the Oppenheimer Brothers at 21 Cléry, the Pohl brothers at 283 St Honoré, and the Sichel brothers at 11 rue Pigalle in 1877.

Most influential of all the dealers was the German-born Siegfried Bing (1838-1905). He would become the leading promoter of Japanese art in his time (fig. 1) and the key figure for Japonisme internationally. From his shop in 19 rue Chauchat, he sold Japanese and Chinese artefacts; expanding in 1881 to include 22 rue Provence around the corner. The previous year, he had travelled to Japan, buying all that he could find, down to the most basic objects like combs and hairpins. Bing opened two other shops the following years.

fig. 1:Henry Somn, Fantasies Japonaises, advertisement for Siegfried Bing, 1879.

Among the costumers who would have frequented these shops were Philippe Burty, actress Sarah Bernhardt and artists Félix Bracquemond and Henri Fantin-Latour. The writer and connoisseur Edmond de Goncourt (1822-1896), with his brother Jules, was also an important figure in the circle of early ‘japonists’. Edmond published books on Kitagawa Utamaro and Katsushika Hokusai with help from the Japanese art dealer, Hayashi Tadamasa (1853-1906), who became the key ukiyo-e expert and dealer in France, importing more than sixteen thousand prints between 1890 and 1901 (fig. 2).

fig. 2: Kitagawa Utamaro, woodblock print, 18th century, from the Tadamasa Hayashi Collection sold at auction in 1902. Collection of Michael Fornitz.

Through his publication Le Japon Artistique (1888-91), Siegfried Bing also sought to promote a more in-depth understanding and knowledge of Japanese art, which at this time was a largely unestablished field (fig. 3).

fig. 3:Le Japon Artistique, S. Bing (ed.), No. 14, 1889.

While Bing and his fellow Japanophiles appealed to connoisseurs and amateur collectors, the ‘exotic’ art of Japan was reaching a wider Western audience and gaining mass-appeal through the world exhibitions.

Beginning in 1851 with the Great Exhibition in London, the world exhibitions, hosted in turn by major cities of Europe and North America, became an important platform for nations to promote trade, show off their cultural heritage and colonial power, educate and entertain the audience, as well as improve national relations.

Learning about the Western concept of ‘world exhibitions’ (hakurankai) from their missions to Europe and North America, the Tokugawa government sent its own representatives to participate at the Paris exhibition in 1867 (fig. 4), and by 1873 at the world exhibition in Vienna, Japan participated under the Meiji government as a unified nation. In 1878, when Paris was once again hosting, the Japan fascination was at its height and numerous examples of Japonisme from European manufacturers were displayed alongside impressive Japanese works of art and crafts presented by official Japan.

fig. 4: Japanese women performing at the Paris Exposition Universelle, 1867, illustrated in “Le Monde Illustré”, 1867illustrated in “Le Monde Illustré”.

As a newcomer to the world stage, the Meiji government recognized the potential of the world exhibitions as a tool to present a national identity manifesting Japan as modern nation with a developed industry equal to that of the Western nations, as well as catering to the Western taste for the ‘exotic’ and ‘oriental’.

Many of the Japanese objects exhibited in 1878 were contemporary decorative show pieces commissioned by the company Kiritsu Kosho Kaisha specifically for the world exhibition. The most impressive of these was a work by metal artist Suzuki Chokichi (1848-1919), a nearly 230 cm tall bronze koro in the form of two peacocks (fig. 5). It attracted a lot of attention and was bought by none other than Siegfried Bing, who later sold it to the South Kensington Museum in London (now Victoria and Albert Museum).

※Koritsu Kosho Gaisha (起立工商会社): a Japanese national trading company established in the early Meiji era, which exported Japanese art and other products to the rest of the world. The company opened in 1874 and is regarded as the cornerstone of ‘trading companies’ in Japan.

fig. 5: Eugène Véron, koro by Suzuki Chokichi, 1878, illustrated in “L’Art: Revue hebdomadaire illustrée”. Bibliothèque nationale de France

Whereas the Japanese government sought to promote Japan as modern and industrial, yet satisfying the general Western perception of Japanese art as exotic by displaying contemporary overtly decorative and ‘Orientalised’ show pieces, the more serious French art collectors sought to promote a more in-depth understanding of ‘authentic’ Japanese art and culture, including religious and traditional art.

Among the participating private exhibitors was Émile Guimet (fig. 6) who had recently returned from a trip to Japan, India and China supported by the French government. He had gathered a significant collection of Oriental art to establish a museum in his hometown Lyons, France. Musée Guimet was moved to Paris in 1889 opening in Place d’Iéna.

fig. 6:Émile Guimet and his collection at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris, illustrated in “Le Monde Illustré”, 1878. Paris. Musée Guimet / Musée des Arts Decoratifs.

Henri Cernuschi (1821-1896), an Italian art collector and banker who had also been to Japan and amassed a large art collection, founded an Oriental art museum in Paris, which opened by Parc Monceau in 1898. Ten years later, the private collection of Clémence d’Ennery (1823-1898), of which many objects were purchased from S. Bing and Tadamasa Hayashi, was opened to the public as Musée d’Ennery at 59 Avenue Foch in Paris.

All three museums still function as museums today and bear witness to the French fascination and interest in Japanese art.

During the 1880s the presentation of Japan from official side would change as the Meiji government realised the importance of Japan’s traditional art and culture to promote a national identity that could be respected and equalled the ones of the Western nations.

By the time of the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, Japan put all efforts in to manifesting a strong national and cultural identity, reflecting the cultural and traditional ‘revival’ of the 1880s.

For the first time, Japan presented a retrospective exhibition of important historical artefacts from Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines national treasures. The exhibition was displayed in le Palais japonais (fig. 7), the Japanese pavilion modelled after the main hall of Horyuji in Nara from the 7th century , one of the world’s oldest wooden constructions.

fig. 7:Perles du Japon – Medaille d’Or, Exposition Universelle 1900, Paris.

Complimenting the retrospective display, the first official Japanese art history L’Histoire de l’Art du Japon was presented. It was published in French for the occasion of the world exhibition and focused on the earlier periods of Japanese art, thereby underlining the importance of history, culture and tradition.

The world exhibition in 1900 was in ways a reflection of the many changes that the Japanese national and cultural profile went through in the second half of the 19th century. A culmination of new influences from the West – in forms of ideas, concepts and systems – as well as a revival and reappreciation of traditional Japan with its long history and culture.



キュレーター、アートディレクター、「Tiger Tanuki: Japanese Art & Aesthetics」創設者。日本美術史の修士号取得後、出版業界やオークション業界を経て、現在はさまざまな観点から日本美術に関する執筆やキュレーション、アートディレクションを行っている。専門は日本の版画と19世紀から20世紀にかけての日本と西洋の文化交流。

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永遠のふたり 白洲次郎と正子