From 1868 onward, when the Meiji dynasty ended two centuries of isolation and opened up Japan's borders, Europe became gripped by Japonism, a frenzy for all things Japanese that came to permeate painting, engraving, jewelry and decoration, as well as film and literature.
Paris was the epicenter of the movement with the arrival of new uses of color, compositions and perspective, and freer depictions of nature that would begin to leave their mark on Art Nouveau, Impressionism, Symbolism and the avant-garde. Running at CaixaForum Barcelona, Japonismo. La fascinación por el arte japonés (or, Japonism. The fascination for Japanese art) brings together 300 works, many of them never exhibited before, relating to this intercontinental exchange, which began 400 years ago with the arrival of the first missionaries to Japan at the end of the 16th century. The objects on show range from a 1503 book of Marco Polo's journeys and a samurai helmet presented to King Philip III in 1614 by a Japanese ambassador, to a 1938 portrait of the painter Mikumo Shonosuke, by Eudald Serra.
Japonism is key for understanding the art of the end of the 19th century"
On the way are works by Mariano Fortuny, who was the first Spanish painter to start drawing Japanese fantasy scenes, as well as Santiago Rusiñol, Darío de Regoyos, Raimundo de Madrazo and Anglada Camarasa. There are also items of furniture that decorated mansions such as the Royal Palace in Madrid, jewelry and a recreation of the Japanese pavilion at the Universal Exhibition of 1888, which marked the first time the country presented itself in Spain.
Another of the attractions of the show is the presence of the Japanese influence in fashion, such as a kimono-style bathrobe created by Cristóbal Balenciaga in 1920, as well as in magic, circus and theater - as in Picasso's portrait of the Japanese actress Sadayakko. "The exhibition could have continued after the war, but it would have been madness because the phenomenon keeps on growing and we would have had to have done a different exhibition," says its curator Ricard Bru. He spent three years tracking down all the pieces and defends Japonism as "a key phenomenon for being able to understand the art of the end of the 19th century, both European and Spanish."
Japonismo. La fascinación por el arte japonés . Until September 15 at CaixaForum Barcelona, Av. de Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia 6-8, Barcelona. http://obrasocial.lacaixa.es