decoarted initial 'T'he genuine contact between the West and Japan started after the arrival in Japan of the American Commodore Perry in 1853, which brought about the end of Japan's period of isolation" (Ono 2). This contact initiated an assimilation of Japanese styles by European artists and artisans, particularly in the areas of design and construction, which ultimately molded and directed the progression of the Aesthetic Movement as a whole. This assimilation, referred to as Japonisme or Japonaiserie by the French, "paved the way for a whole new philosophy of art and design, which led naturally to an ultimate pursuit of abstraction, while in England the same style was gradually submerged beneath the pseudo medievalism of the Arts and Crafts movement" (Aesthetic 7)

The re-opening of the Japanese borders unleashed a fervor of desire for this "new style" during the 1860s and 1870s, as various Japanese products new and old swept through Europe via Holland and France, and various traders, diplomats and travelers returned from their travels to Japan to publish books and spread their knowledge of Eastern life and culture. "For the western countries it was a confirmation of the triumph of their culture, science and civilization. At the same time, it was an opportunity to explore the unknown world" (Ono 6). Clay Lancaster also points out that "the European countries were examining Eastern Arts as a by-product of the new imperialistic pride in territorial possessions" (quoted by Madsen 192). These new contacts introduced to the European artistic community different perceptions regarding customs and lifestyles outside from those of Europe; these ideals and philosophies were supported and spread by such artists and collectors as Arthur Lasenby Liberty, Christopher Dresser and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Aesthetic 8, Ono 2). In fact, Liberty's interest in and affinity for Japanese craftsmanship was so fond that he insisted that the Japanese "not allow European influences in return to overturn the art of JapanÉlet the outcome be Japanese in character and in thought" (Ono 28). These cultural interests and assimilations, which also included Chinese, Moorish, Persian, Indian, and Javanese styles, instigated a blurring of cultural lines under the umbrella term "Oriental," and received attention in various International Exhibitions in most notably 1862, 1871, 1873 and 1878. Out of these exhibitions spawned the British appropriation of the Japanese lacquer style:

Lacquer was not native to European culture, and this was one of the reasons why it was valued. The term "japanned" means lacquered, and lacquerware was available in European countries before the nineteenth century. However, these ideas were mainly acquired by aristocrats and rich collectors who had a taste for the Orient. After the middle of the nineteenth century the general public became increasingly aware of it. The shiny smooth surface of black lacquer was one of the inspirations for the ebonised Anglo-Japanese furniture of the English designer Edward William Goodwin. [Oko 10].

Thus, the elegance and simplicity of Japanese style, design and production greatly inspired English artisans, who ultimately worked to fuse Japanese aesthetic values with Victorian functional needs: "it was said that Japanese objects were 'more or less adapted to the use of European life'" (Ono 6). This assimilation and fusion of styles allocated "new ideas and shapes that looked towards the twentieth century" (Aesthetic 4), as these ideas acted as some of the paramount influences on the conception of Art Noveau (Madsen 191).


Christopher Dresser: Following the 1862 International Exhibition, Dresser, who began to collect Japanese artifacts, stressed that

The desire to possess Japanese objects arose as soon as the International Exhibition of 1862 was open, and it was not long after this time that our merchants began to concern themselves with the introduction of these strange manufactures as articles of commerce. [Ono 10]

In 1876, Dresser visited Japan as a representative for the South Kensington Museum, and in 1882 published his book Japan, its Architecture, Art and Art-Manufactures. In 1873 with the founding Londos & Co., formed by Dresser in conjunction with Charles Reynolds & Co., Dresser became "one of the major distributors of Japanese objects in the next decade" (Ono 11). In addition, this partnership facilitated in the formation of Dresser & Holme (in conjunction with Charles Holmes), which imported Japanese wares from its branch in Kobe, Japan. Dresser's work exhibits very clear Japanese influences, which simplistic nature allows for the dual aesthetic appeal and functionality that became key in his desire to mass-produce. "By stressing the importance of design and modernity rather than antiquarian craftsmanship, Dresser emerged as a greater design-innovator than any of the other artists in the Arts and Crafts movement" (Ono 25). His simple geometric and clean shapes characterize his metal work and were ultimately inspired by Japanese artifacts, which "were important to give him some idea of the essence of daily objects and to establish his theory for industrial art" (25). Notice the streamlined and asymmetrical Japanese influences in such pieces as his tea pot and tea set, his tall split-handle jug, the sea urchin vessel, and his claret jug.

Arthur Liberty: Liberty opened the East India House in London in 1875, invested in Dresser's shop, and utilized Dresser & Holme as a shareholder and supplier for his company, which "was one of the first interior decorating firms in the modern sense and covered virtually all fields of design, from ordinary household goods to textiles and wallpapers" (Ono 11). Liberty began to commission work from designers under the policy of anonymity, which thus subtracted the cost of designer status and hand design, as he introduced machine production to meet growing demands. "In this way Japanese objects and Japanese-inspired objects became widespread in Victorian domestic decoration and contributed to the Aesthetic Movement" (Ono 27). Liberty understood the demands of the middle class, who held a growing interest in the arts, and along with Dresser revolutionized the techniques of mass production and accessibility that allowed for Japanese styles and artifacts to permeate all aspects of class and society. "And so a fashion was hastily created, for commercial reasons" (Aesthetic 10).

E.W. Godwin: Similar to designer William Burges, a medievalist devotee, Godwin studied medieval art in the 1850s under Ruskin's influence, and began to collect Japanese objects and artifacts. "This lead to the creation of his ebonised 'Anglo-Japanese' furniture. His cabinet in the V & A in London, which dates from about 1867, for instance, is well known as an example of Victorian Japonisme" (Ono 28). Godwin's work reflects the typical trends in furniture design, which trace influence to three or four essential elements typical of Japanese style: first of all the simple, fragile structure. "The peculiarly Oriental construction which is conditioned by the use of bamboo and manilla, was copied with ordinary European materials to produce correspondingly light and rectangular construction, as for example in Godwin's sideboard" (Madsen 192). Simplicity, the definitive characteristic of Japonisme, reigns apparent throughout Godwin's designs, which also feature a use of the rectilinear construction: "Godwin's use of a combination of curved and geometric patterns in not unusual in Japanese design" (Ono 31). Notice these influences in his Sofa, his octogonal table, and his armchair. In addition to this, "there is an asymmetrical conception both of the interior itself and well as of the individual piece of furniture, and furthermore, the circular arch . . . which is due to Moorish influence" (Madsen 193).


1. Is there a connection between Japonisme and the Gothic and Celtic revival styles of the time? Ayako Ono quotes another critic, in regards to Burges' medievalism, that "it was not primarily the form of Gothic architecture which appealed to Burges but a romanticized view of the conditions which produced it. And so it was with Japanese art" (28). What other artists harbored similar views regarding medievalism? Why would medievalist devotees such as Godwin and Burges be drawn to Japanese styles as well? Are these styles paradoxical or complementary?

2. Stephen Madsen states that

it was, however, the realm of decorative pattern design that the Oriental and Japanese influence was most obviousÉparts of plants, flowers, and reeds were placed loosely round about the side, separated by oblique lines, semi-circles, and straight lines, and the text was then inserted with a corresponding artistic freedom, often asymmetrically, intimately bound up with the décor in a manner which was highly unorthodox at the time . . . the floral aspects of Japanese art readily accorded with the taste of the age, but it was a great innovation that its two-dimensional nature was adopted by eliminating the background plane. [194-95]

Compare this description to the visual qualities of the work of William Morris. Was Morris a Japoniste?

3. D. G. Rossetti was a collector of Japanese items. Are there any indications of Japanese influences within his paintings or book designs? Do his combinations of text and image, or the connections between his paintings and poems, relate to Japonaiserie? Many of the Japanese influenced painters, Whistler in particular, were greatly inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites, and their subjects are often depicted with Japanese style objects and/or "a white lily, the ultimate Pre-Raphaelite accessory" (Ono 68). Many PRB associates such as Morris, Ruskin, Rossetti and Burne-Jones, were customers of Liberty's. Comment on this connection. Does Japonisme conflict with or complement Pre-Raphaelite and Ruskinian ideals?


Klein, Dan Ltd. Aspects of the Aesthetic Movement: An Exhibition. London: Julian Hartnoll, 5 Dec to 22 Dec 1978.

Ono, Ayako. Japonsime in Britian: Whistler, Menpes, Henry, Hornel and nineteenth century Japan. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

Madsen, Stephan Tschudi. Sources of Art Nouveau. New York: Da Capo Press, 1976.

Last modified 3 December 2023