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Japonism

During the nineteenth century, with the spread of the Universal Expositions in Europe, works of art, simple objects of everyday life, such as fans or fabrics, prints, vases and all sorts of handicrafts from Japan arrived in the Western world. Japanese culture had in fact remained, until the 1950s, excluded from the rest of the world because the government feared a negative contamination of their millenary traditions.

Thanks to the opening of an Asian art workshop in Paris, by the merchant Bing, Japanese culture soon became fashionable and inspired both Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists, establishing the theme of the exotic in European art. The essential forms, the abandonment of perspective in favor of the view from above, the asymmetry, the flat color, the floating figures, the bright and lively colors, the use of the outline in a strongly evident and elegant way and the frequent ornamental elements became motifs of inspiration and emulation in the works of art by Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and many others including Vincenzo Ragusa from Palermo. The portrait with which Manet pays homage to his writer friend Zola can be considered the symbol of the perfect symbiosis between Impressionist art, with its skilful use of light and colors, and Japanese culture, present in the work and honored by the author both in the print behind Zola both in the silk screen but above all in the flat brushstrokes typical of Japanese art. Toulouse-Lautrec in Divan Japonais, an advertising poster for the Japanese-inspired Parisian bar, inserted all the typical characters of Japanese graphics: elegance, decisive stroke, sharp contrasts and the use of line as a structural element that creates two-dimensionality. Van Gogh portrays his merchant friend surrounded by Japanese prints in Le père Tanguy, testifying to the frequent presence of Japanese works of art that are increasingly widespread in Europe. Gauguin, strongly inspired by Japanese art, in The vision after the Sermon, best expresses the new synthesist-symbolist current through the use of a bright color spread flat, without chiaroscuro, and thanks to the view from above. , novelty with respect to Impressionism. Vincenzo Ragusa, artist-bridge between Western and Japanese culture, in the terracotta statue with which he represents his wife, combines the classic lines of Mediterranean sculpture with the typical elements of Japanese culture such as the fan or the typical dress; in fact, having spent long periods in Japan, he has the means to be able to combine the characters of both traditions. In Europe, Japanese art, on the one hand, took root in the immediate rejection of the illusionist naturalism, but, on the other, once the enthusiasm for novelty dropped, it remained misunderstood due to its intrinsic connections with the Buddhist religion, foreign to the West. and only in the second post-war period could the Japanese spirit be truly understood and accepted when the exchanges between the two worlds were not only commercial but also spiritual and philosophical.

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