Both the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan and the late nineteenth century in France witnessed a multitude of challenges to the status quo from the rising middle class. In Edo (present-day Tokyo), townspeople pursued hedonistic lifestyles as a way of defying the state-sanctioned social hierarchy that positioned them at the bottom. Their new pastimes supplied subject matter for ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world). Many such pictures arrived in France in the 1860s, a time when French art and society were undergoing substantial changes. Fin-de-si cle Paris, like Edo before it, saw the rise of antiestablishment attitudes and a Bohemian subculture. As artists searched for fresh and more expressive forms, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and his contemporaries were drawn to novel Japanese prints.
While ukiyo-e's formal influences on Toulouse-Lautrec and his peers have been well studied, the shared subversive hedonism that underlies these artworks has been less examined. Through a wide selection of Japanese prints and Toulouse-Lautrec works, this book offers a critical look at the renegade spirit inhabiting the graphic arts in both Edo and Paris, highlighting the social impulses behind a burgeoning art production.
Exhibition dates: Seattle Asian Art Museum, July 21-December 3, 2023