The Japanese stand at the London World Fair 1862
Two events in the 19th Century propelled Japan not only into the modern world and trade with the West but into the fashionable salons of London, Paris and New York. The first was the arrival of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet in 1853 demanding that Western ships be allowed to restock and trade in Japanese ports after centuries of self imposed isolation. The second was the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and the beginning of the Empire of Japan. Feudal Lords, each with their own Samurai warriors, were forced to give up their armies to a central government and Emperor. When this happened the artisans involved in making armor, and luxury goods for the various feudal Lords and households were encouraged to turn their workshops of metalwork, ceramics and other crafts into exporters of goods for the Western eye.
Throughout the late 19th Century there were World Fairs all over Europe and North America where all the nations of the world exhibited their latest technological and artistic achievements. At each one the Japanese displays of fabulous artistic wares caused a sensation and soon the public was flocking to stores like Liberty & Co. in London, Samuel Bing's Maison de l'Art Nouveau in Paris and Gump's in San Francisco. Bing in particular changed the direction of art and design in Europe. At the end of the 1880s, Bing founded a monthly periodical, Le Japon artistique, and organized a series of exhibitions of rare Japanese art, featuring ceramics and ukiyo-e prints. Many of the great impressionist painters, including Van Gogh, were customers and collectors of his Japanese woodblock prints, vases and other pieces of Japonisme.
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