Japonism is, in short, the influence that Japanese art has had in European works. Most specifically in that of the 19th century. It’s also known as Japonisme and Anglo-Japanese.
Are you a fan - like so many others - of artists such as Van Gogh? Without the woodblock Ukiyo-e prints of the Edo Period, his style would differ from what we know and love now. This traditional Japanese art form had an enormous impact on Western art. It was part of the foundation that created movements such as Impressionism, Post-Impressionism (of course), and Art Nouveau. For the history of Ukiyo-e prints, I have a post here.
As Japan’s artworks became more available to all, thanks to international trade, it spread across the world. Japanese arts were collected and featured in English exhibitions, and shown to all at places like The World’s Fair. The craze in France started when these blocks were introduced and sold out quickly. They were beautiful, and cheap to make. The influence of Asian art continued to spread in all artistic endeavours. People loved how different Japanese characteristics of art were from what they had been taught. Van Gogh is not the only recognizable person to be influenced by Asian art. Claude Monet (1840-1926), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), and Louis Anquetin (1861-1924) are just a few more that adopted certain Japanese styles in their work.
What attracted artists to these Japanese works is the vivid, bold, and unshaded shapes and colours. Without this influence, it makes you wonder what the works of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) would have looked like. The similarities may not be obvious at first glance, but it is the composition, colours, and lines you must focus on to truly understand the influence. Some works may be obvious - beautiful women dressed in kimonos - while others more subtle. In any case, it’s amazing to see how the influence of another culture can help form entire movements across the world.
Above details: Maternal Caress (1890-91) by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) // Models for Fashion: New Year Designs as Fresh as Young Leaves (c. 1778-1780) by Isoda Kōryūsai (1735-1790) // One of the three tiles in Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre (1844) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) // Woman with Fan (1917-18) by Gustav Klimt (1862–1918)