Jo (Shihui) Wang
La Japonaise and Rue du Caire:
The Artistic Colonialism in the late 19th century France
The second half of the 19th century was a time of unprecedented changes in European society. Commerce developed with the Industrial Revolution; technological innovations produced an increasingly material world; and colonial empires expanded tremendously into various continents. As a result of the commercial relationships with the colonies and the rest of the world, Europe was engaging with an unprecedented variety and depth of cultural exchanges. Looking at the refreshingly exotic forms of foreign art from the point of ...view middle of the document...
The leading architect, Alphonse Delort de Gleon, integrated a central mosque into the Rue du Caire complex, along with other residential architecture based on Cairo, including bazaars, cafes and shops (Fig. 2). In the center of the Rue du Caire stood the miniature reconstruction of the Qaytbay Mosque from the Sultan Qaytbay’s funerary complex. It included an elegant and slender stone minaret, with a smooth bulb on top and a fully ornamented body in high relief. The street also featured an ornamented porch leading to the bazaar. Shops opened along the street, with decorated ancient woodwork above the doors. Gleon used musharabiyyas - window, door and other decorative details of the buildings that were recycled from the fragments of demolishing buildings in Cairo – in order to increase the authenticity of the street.
Similarly, the painting La Japonaise by Claude Monet depicted a French bourgeoisie woman identified as Monet’s wife, Camille, dressed in an elaborate kimono with a Japanese fan in her hand, in a room filled with Japanese decorations (Fig. 1). The alarming red shade of the kimono occupied the majority of the space on the canvass, and became the visual focus of the painting rather than the woman herself. Intricate patterns of flowers and leaves spread across the top half of the kimono, while an eye-catching warrior figure holding a sword in a dynamic pose decorated the bottom half of the kimono. The kimono draped from Camille’s body to create elongated and elegant curves on the back, waist and legs, spreading out into a bell-shaped hem on the carpet. Madame Monet turns her face sideways to look at the viewer, smiling subtly while holding a Japanese paper fan next to her face and her soft blond curls. Behind her, fans of various sizes and designs of discernibly Japanese motifs decorated the wall and are scattered on the floor. In contrast, the fan Madame Monet is holding in her hand consists of red, white and blue, the tricolor of France. A carpet of an unconventional and repetitive geometric design covers the floor, which is in fact a traditional Japanese mat called Tatami.
The painting La Japonaise was a representative image for the school of Japonisme, regarding specifically European art, particularly French impressionism, influenced by Japanese aesthetics. After Japan opened seaports to trade with western countries in 1854, tremendous amounts of Japanese woodblock prints, especially Edo period prints in the style of Ukiyo-e, flooded into Europe. Ukiyo-e prints, meaning “pictures of the floating world” in Japanese, were characterized by the use of flat spaces, bold colors and well-defined lines, usually depicting travel scenes, beautiful women or erotica. In 1862, Monet became disillusioned by the traditional art form taught at the Beaux Arts schools in France, and, together with Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frederic Bazille, and Alfred Sisley, began to search for new artistic languages. Around 1871, Monet...