Revisiting Bonnard’s Japonisme, abstract

Open Inquiry Archive

Vol. 1, No. 7 (2012)

Revisiting Bonnard’s Japonisme

by David E. Gliem


Art historians have thoroughly investigated the role that Japonisme—generally speaking, the influence of Japanese culture (especially visual art) on Western art—played in the emergence of the many formal idiosyncrasies seen in the work of avant-garde artists since the mid-nineteenth century.  These scholars have described in detail iconographic and compositional influences and have found precedents in Japanese art, especially woodblock prints.  This emphasis on questions of style and subject matter is particularly true in the Japonisme scholarship on Pierre Bonnard, who was a key member of the Symbolist confraternity called the Nabis and whose fascination with Japanese art was rather profound (his friends called him “the very Japanese Nabi”). What is missing from the literature, however, is an assessment of the influence of Asian thought on Bonnard.  This oversight is striking since information about Asian philosophical and religious traditions was readily available in Bonnard’s time and was a widely discussed topic within the Symbolist milieu.  Essentially, what Gliem argues here is that Bonnard sought to communicate Buddhist ontology in his art, what the author calls Bonnard’s aesthetic of the absolute.  This argument is accomplished via an overview of Asian thought in the West during the nineteenth century and a careful analysis of a selection of Bonnard’s works.  Thus the aim of this study is to enlarge and deepen our understanding of Japonisme and its influence on Bonnard.


Full text of article available here.

Text Copyright  2012  David E. Gliem

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