The Oriental Influence on English Art: 1850-1900, with an Emphasis on James McNeill Whistler
Nesburg, Janet A.
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The question may be raised concerning the use of the term "Oriental" in this thesis. This term is used to refer to Japan and China, with an emphasis on Japan. During the time between 1850 and 1900, few artists made any aesthetic distinction between the art works of the various Oriental nations. The public viewed Japan as exotic, remote, pro-Western, growing in importance and power, and an inspiration in aesthetic matters. China, however, was viewed as weak and corrupt, helpless under the heel of Western-powers, anti-foreign, and "inhumane" (surmised from missionary accounts). Therefore, Europe turned to the art of Japan (partially because of open trade routes); Europe felt they understood Japan, while turning away from China through sheer ignorance. China preceded and excelled Japan in the characterization of birds, animals, flowers, and in the splendor of ornament. China offered greater impressiveness and dignity which influenced the Japanese. Japanese art was more primitive, based on decorative theories of simultaneous contrasts. The art focused upon flat tints with occasional gradations toward the outer edges. A vibration of the color resulted from a method of allowing the paper or silk to shine through the pigment. This technique instilled refinement and finish in much Japanese art. The arts of both Japan and China were based on a complete and precise knowledge of nature, which were influenced by certain defined and understood conventions; therefore, Whistler and the artists of England made no specific personal distinction, but because of societal views and political affiliations, Japanese influence and presence was more pronounced.