Japanese Art and Western influence

Japanese Art and Western influence

For people who are interested in objects of Japanese Art and Craft that were made under the influence of Western culture. A historic relation of nearly 450 years that you can retrace in art and antique objects.

In Art History most attention has been given to the big influence of Japanese Art on the development of Western Art and Craft in the second half of the nineteenth century. The fashion of Japonism and the influence on Impressionism and Art Nouveau is described in many Art History books and shown in many Exhibitions.

Less well documented is the Western influence on Japanese Art and Craft in different historical periods

Japanese Silk Wall Tapestry

In the second part of the 19th century a lot of large silk
embroidery wall hangings were exported to the West.
Also these tapestry’s were made in Japanese style and
technique ,they were made for Western decorative use.
The tapestry showing here is 240 cm high
and 180 cm width.

Japanese Watercolours from the Meiji and Taisho period

All these watercolours were done in a Western watercolour technique, on European watercolour paper and with European watercolour paint. Most watercolours are signed in a Western way in Roman letters. They are made from 1890 till the end of the 1930s by artists with a Western style education, at Art schools in Japan by Western teachers. One of them was the English watercolourist Charles Wirgman.

Japanese Decorative Art objects for the Western market

From late 16th century on many Art and Craft objects were made by the Japanese craftsmen for export to the West.In the 17th and 18th century mainly porcelain and lacquer objects. In the Meiji period, when the Japanese crafts market changed from a local to a massive export market,they made high quality decorative objects from many divers materials as bronze, iron, ivory, cloisonne, earthenware, silk, wood and again lacquer and porcelain. Most of these objects were made in a traditional Japanese technique, but especially in the Meiji period (1867 -1912), the style was often influenced by Western taste. In Europe it was the time of Art Nouveau (Jugendstyle) that was highly influenced by Japanese Art, and there was great interest again in the “exotic” Japanese Art and Culture. On the diverse World Exhibitions of the late 19th century in Europe and the United States the Japanese Art and Craft objects were highly admired and received many prices.

Nagasaki Laquer Writing Desk

This Nagasaki lacquer, with mother of pearl inlay, Writing Desk was
made early 19th century after a French 18th century model.

Nagasaki Lacquer Ware

At the end of the 18th century started in the Nagasaki area the production of lacquer objects with a design based on European engravings, ordered by employee’s of the Dutch VOC who were staying in Decima in Nagasaki. The lacquer was made on a copper base, why on copper is not known, perhaps because copper was more durable than the traditional wood base for lacquer objects. On the black lacquer was the design made in gold lacquer and/or coloured mother of pearl.In the beginning they made small oval panels with portraits of famous European persons, and bigger square panels with famous views big European cities. This objects were for decorative use only, the also started making “usefull’objects, small furniture and boxes, all with mother of pearl inlay, and more often on wood. A big collection, now in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Mass. , was bought by American sea captains in 1798 and 1801. All objects were in western shapes and made for export to Europe, early 19th century we can find card boxes, sewing boxes and tobacco boxes. These tobacco boxes you can find now also in the Tokyo in the Tobacco and Salt Museum.
A rare piece of furniture after an European model you can see on the page of a Nagasaki Writing Desk. Later in the 19th century the production of tobacco boxes on copper stops, they only make diverse sizes lacquer boxes on wood with a more elaborate and colorful design in mother of pearl often with flowers and birds in a Japanese decorative style.

They experimented with putting cloisonne on porcelain, in Nagasaki they experimented in the same time, around 1875, with putting lacquer with mother of pearl design on porcelain. These lacquer pieces are still more rare than the cloisonne pieces.


This is a Bunko, a Japanese paper storage box. It is a box with gold and brown lacquer on natural grained wood, with inlay of gold, ivory, red lacquer, and mother of pearl. Decorated in a traditional Japanese style.
Made around 1750.

Japanese Cloisonne On Porcelain

A New Technique

In the beginning of the Meiji period the Japanese government stimulated the development of the technique of traditional Japanese craftsmanship, and helped to create new export markets for their Art and Crafts objects.

Because of the social changes in the Meiji period the local market for many craftsman has disappeared , but in Europe and the US they found and created a new market for their products.
One of the techniques they developed, and in which the Japanese craftsman created top quality pieces, was the cloisonné technique.The Japanese government invited Western technicians and chemist to Japan to help to develop the techniques. They experimented a lot, and one of their products was to make cloisonné on porcelain instead of the traditional cloisonné on copper or bronze.These objects on porcelain were only made for a short period because the technique was rather difficult, and through the fast technical development most company’s made the cloisonné on copper again.

The objects you see her were made by the “Shippo Company of Japan” in Nagoya and are signed by their main artist Takeuchi Chubei. These objects were made around 1875. Objects signed by him you can find also in the National Museum in Tokyo .



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