Skip to main content

“Japonisme” in French Ceramics

Following the forced reopening of Japanese ports in 1854, Japanese art in the form of prints, illustrated books, ceramics, textiles, lacquerwares, and bronzes poured into Europe. Exposure to Japanese prints and objects for the first time provided artists and designers, particularly in France, with images of a distant land as well as a new formal vocabulary, sense of spatial relationships, color palette, and appreciation for nature as an inspirational source. In 1872, the new visual aesthetic was given the name “Japonisme” by the influential French art critic Philippe Burty.

The first use of Japanese print images in French ceramics occurred in Felix Bracquemond’s (1833–1914) “Service Rousseau” tableware made for the Paris retailer Eugene Rousseau in 1866 and shown at the Paris World’s Fair in 1867 to critical and popular acclaim. Here, the large carp which decorates the platter is copied directly from Hiroshige’s (1797–1858) undated “Fish Series” of woodblock prints. Bracquemond’s service was recognized for its revolutionary use of Japanese images and asymmetrical compositions on white, otherwise unadorned backgrounds.

Other French decorative artists soon followed in adopting Japanese designs and formal principles. Each of the ceramicists included in this online exhibition developed independent, interpretive, Japanizing styles, emulating the spirit of their models and in the process, achieving a new, freer conception of painted decoration and ceramic techniques. Some were inspired by other Asian models, such as Leon Parvillee (1830–1885), who adopted the Chinese guardian lion with humor and technical skill, embellishing the little figure with bright colored glazes that were allowed to run and blend.