Japanese Impressionism: Definition, History of Japanese Art Movement

Japanese Impressionism

For a long time, Western countries have influenced Japonisme art not only politically and economically, but also culturally. But did you know that Japan also had a certain impact on European culture?

If you look at some canvases of paintings, for example, Monet, Van Gogh, and other artists, then with the naked eye you can see the details inherent in Japanese cultural art. These creations belong to such a direction in art as Japonisme. We will talk about it in this article.

What Is Japaneseism?

Kitagawa Utamaro (1795)

Kitagawa Utamaro (1795)

“Japonism” is an artistic direction where the borrowing of motives, techniques, and colors, characteristic of Japanese art, takes place.

This concept as a term has been used since 1872 when the French art critic Philippe Burtis tried to describe the strong fascination with Japan in Western countries. After Japan opened for trade and the process of establishing international relations with the rest of the world began, there was a boom in interest in the Japonisme definition, which first arose in European countries, and later in the United States and the Russian Empire. During the 1860s-1910s, people were especially interested in clothing, furniture, and paintings in the Japan art style and tried to adapt them to their lives. Most of all this was realized in painting.

Tokaido Hodogaya Hodogaya on the Tokaido Highway and Vincent van Gogh The painter on the way to work
Tokaido Hodogaya Hodogaya on the Tokaido Highway and Vincent van Gogh The painter on the way to work

Japonism began as an excuse for collecting Japanese art designs, especially ukiyo-e. Some of the first examples of ukiyo-e influence on western art were seen in Paris. Around 1856, French artist Felix Brackmond first came across a copy of Hokusai Manga’s sketchbook in the workshop of his printer, Auguste Delatre. The album entered Deltre’s workshop shortly after Japanese ports opened to the world economy in 1854; therefore, Japanese art movements have not yet caught on in the West. In the years following this discovery, there was an increase in interest in Japanese prints. They were sold in curiosity shops, tea warehouses, and large stores. Stores such as La Porte Chineise specialized in selling Japanese and Chinese imports. In particular, La Porte Chineise attracted Japanese impressionist artists James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Édouard Manet, and Edgar Degas, who drew inspiration from the prints.

Kano Sanraku - Frolicking Birds in Plum and Willow Trees (17th Century)
Kano Sanraku – Frolicking Birds in Plum and Willow Trees (17th Century)

European artists during this time were looking for an alternative style for rigorous academic methodologies. Meetings organized by stores such as La Porte Chineise helped spread awareness of Japanese art deco and technology.

19th-Century Japanese Art

Almond Blossoms, Vincent van Gogh, 1890
Almond Blossoms, Vincent van Gogh, 1890

This happened at the world industrial exhibition, which was held in Paris in 1867. It was then that ordinary people first saw objects of Japanese impressionism, in particular, ukiyo-e prints by Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Sadahide. However, by that time, fans, kimonos, silk, and all kinds of “oriental” items had already flooded Europe and the rest of the world, becoming very fashionable.

The Water Lily Pond, Claude Monet, 1899

The Water Lily Pond,Claude Monet, 1899

Claude Monet, greatly influenced by Japanese aesthetic, said that he first discovered Japanese wrapping paper prints in a spice shop in the Netherlands. While American artist James McNeill Whistler, also heavily influenced by Japanese art, saw them for the first time. In a Chinese teahouse near London Bridge.

Under Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa, Katsushika Hokusai

Under Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa,Katsushika Hokusai

Many artists of the time Monet, Degas, Van Gogh were keen collectors of Japanese art, but the impact of this occupation on each of them was different. Some artists, like James Tissot, were so enamored with Japan that they depicted their models in traditional Japanese clothing and apparently displayed oriental props in their work. Others, like Edgar Degas, were subtly influenced, adopting aspects of the Japanese approach to painting: unusual angles and masterful depictions of movement.

Sakurajima Volcanic Island, Ōsumi Province,1856

Sakurajima Volcanic Island, Ōsumi Province,1856

Many of Hokusai’s prints have had a great influence on the work of European artists. For example, the flowers on an empty background depicted in the engravings served as inspiration for Claude Monet, as a result of which the famous cycle of paintings “Water Lilies” was created. Japanese influences can also be observed in the work “Japanese Woman”, where the artist diligently tried to depict his wife in traditional dress against the background of fans.

The Japanese Influence on Impressionism

Impressionism, widely known as the first trend in contemporary art, remains one of the most popular and widespread art forms today. Although much of the pioneering genre was impressively original, the Impressionists, like most artists, drew inspiration from other art forms, namely Japanese woodcuts.

The Japanese have 6 seasons, unlike the rest of the world. The additional two seasons are the rainy season (6 weeks), and an analog of our Indian summer. In comparison with ours, this period is very long and regular. In Japanese, there are at least two names for this season akibare (Autumn clarity) and nihonbare (Japanese clarity). This time of the year gives dry, sunny weather after the end of the typhoon period and continues until winter.



The chigiri-e technique consists of tearing handmade dyed paper and gluing it onto a base. As a result, many small pieces produce a picture that has a two-dimensional image.

Paintings made in the chigiri-e style look very unusual. They are something between appliquéing and painting. Such collages are made of washi paper, which has amazing properties. Thanks to washi paper, these pictures are attractive and original.

Bay at Kominato in Awa Province

Bay at Kominato in Awa Province

In 1874, the same year that Impressionism officially appeared with Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, the French collector and critic Philippe Burti coined the term Japaneseism. Although today the term refers to the influence of all forms of Japanese art on any direction in art, it is commonly used to describe the prominent role of woodcuts in Impressionism.

Although ukiyo-e prints only recently penetrated the consciousness of the West, several decades earlier, they were already extremely popular among both European artists and art lovers. Claude Monet, for example, amassed an impressive collection of woodcuts, most of which still hang in his home in Giverny.

Given their admiration for ukiyo-e prints, it is not surprising that Impressionist painters incorporated elements of this art form into their own work.

Few people know that Japanese industrial collectors Kojiro Matsukata and Magasaburo Ohara already at the beginning of the twentieth century owned a magnificent collection of paintings by French artists of the second half of Japan in the 19th century. Later it became the core of the collection of several museums in Japan.

Japanese Fashion Style

Until the second half of the 19th century, Europeans meant little to art nouveau Japanese influence. However, in the 17th century, Japanese kimonos were imported into Europe by the Dutch East India Company and worn by wealthy Europeans as robes. Imports of this authentic garment are limited, and the market is satisfied with the so-called “Indian” robes, nicknamed “Japonsche rocken” (Japanese dresses) in Holland, “Indian robes” in France, and “Banyans” (“Indian merchant”) in England.

When Was Japan Discovered by Europe?

Japan's encounter with Europe, 1573 – 1853
Japan’s encounter with Europe, 1573 – 1853

After the discovery of Japan in 1868 (Meiji era), the kimono was certainly adopted in the use of the robe (Madame Eriot (1892) Auguste Renoir is represented by the inner kimono, and in 1908 Sonia Callot produced a reinterpreted Japanese kimono). Her fabric was used to make Western dresses, such as crinoline dresses (see The Condition of Women in the West during the Belle Époque).

Japonisme impressionism is also adapted to Western textiles, such as plant representatives, small animals, or even family wardrobes on Lyons silks. In the 20th century, if the kimono shape becomes commonplace to be completely confused with the robe, the traditional kimono retains a real impact on Western fashion.

Japonisme impressionism is also adapted to Western textiles
Japonisme in western textiles

Western art, having penetrated Japan, had no less impact on the artists of the East, determining the further development of their art and the influence of Japonisme can best be seen in the paintings.

At the end of the 19th century, Japanese artists came to study in France. Returning home, they bring the latest French novelties, from style to method. Meet impressionism and work in the open air.
In the works of Japanese artists, two traditions merge: French ones appear in spirit and in the construction of a recreation scene in a lush blooming garden, where oriental beauties dream or read books. Filled with sunlight, shrouded in haze, like Renoir’s, the paintings are attractive and unique in their own way. So now you’ve learned all about Japonisme and impressionism.

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