Japonism and Its Presence in the Museum Library

Estampa japonesa

The recent renovation of the modern art rooms dedicates an area to Japonism, a fashion which follows the art and aesthetics of Japan. It was born in Paris and spread to the rest of the European capitals during the second half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. In Barcelona, Japan became present in the decade of the 1870s, by means of the programming of shows and the importing of oriental craftwork. Later on, the participation of the country in the Universal Exposition of 1888 would promote the interest of Asiatic art collectors, which was mainly carried out by diplomats, the bourgeoisie and artists.

From the museum library, we would like to take advantage of the circumstance of our new gallery of Japonism to show you some illustrated books that formed part of the private collections of Catalan personalities from the artistic world. Numerous artists were interested in collecting oriental art and acquired books that they conserved in their homes and that were subsequently incorporated in the library.

First of all, the private library of Alexandre de Riquer, bought by the Board of Museums, was incorporatedin 1921. We can find there some precious illustrated Japanese books.

Estampa Estampa
Selection of prints taken from the albums of the private library of Alexandre de Riquer.

Subsequently, in 1932, took place the donation by Pere Ynglada, a great lover of oriental art, to the Board of Museums.

Llegat Ynglada Llegat Ynglada
Illustrations of works belonging to the Ynglada Legacy.

Finally, during the decade of the 1950s, some printed Japanese works were incorporated from the Apel·les Mestres Library that the artist bequeathed to the city. The collection is made up of albums written in Japanese and by collections of traditional Japanese fairy tales and folklore, explained in English (Japanese Fairy Tale) and in French (Contes du vieux Japon).

Llegat d’Apel·les Mestres Llegat d’Apel·les Mestres
Japanese albums from the Apel·les Mestres Legacy.
Llegat d’Apel·les Mestres Llegat d’Apel·les Mestres
Covers from the series Japanese Fairy Tale and of the Vieux Japon, from the Apel·les Mestres Legacy.

Apel·les Mestres and Alexandre de Riquer kept up a very close and intense friendship, and between both of them, they acquired the best collection of Japanese prints and illustrated books in Barcelona at that time. The printing of Japonism, however, is not only present in these beautiful collected books, but we can also find it in Spanish books and magazines from the last quarter of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. As an example of this we have the Influence of the Japanese style on European arts from 1884 by Josep Masriera Manovens in the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona.

With regard to foreign editions, the library conserves works which turned out to be decisive in the process of diffusion of Japonism, such as the magazine Le Japon Artistique (1888-1891) or Japan’s Year (1905).

Le Japon Artistique Le Japon Artistique
Covers of Le Japon Artistique and of Japan’s Year.

Today, like a century ago, the fascination for Japan continues to be a cause for study. For this reason, more recently, and now from a historiographical perspective, studies have been introduced about the diffusion of Japonism and catalogues of exhibitions that you can find on our online catalogue under the epigraph of the subject «Japonism».

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Yolanda Ruiz

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