In 1854, after a period of over two hundred years of self-imposed isolation, Japan was forced by the United States to open its borders to international trade. The resulting influx of Japanese artworks into Europe and America, including woodblock prints, ceramics, lacquer and textiles, triggered a veritable revolution in the arts and design.

Progressive artists across Europe adopted elements of the visual language of Japanese art in order to forge a new European art aesthetic in a phenomenon known as Japonisme. At first, practitioners of Japonisme copied exotic motifs and the surface effects of novel materials like lacquer in a literal fashion. But gradually Western artists began to engage more deeply with Japanese art, adopting innovative compositional devices, exploring new subject matter and embracing Japanese art’s profound respect for the decorative arts. Japonisme had an indelible impact on Western art, shaping the Fauvist art movement on the continent and the Aesthetic Movement in England, and the works created during this period would lay the foundations of modernism.

This exhibition draws upon works from across the NGV Collection – including decorative arts, works on paper, paintings, fashion and textiles, photography and Japanese art – to explore the impact of Japanese art and design upon the arts in the West in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.