My earlier post on Marie Danforth Page mentioned this self-portrait. Looking at it again, I was struck by Page's slightly amused, slightly challenging gaze out of the corner of her left eye. The side glance is explained in part by the painter's need to look in a mirror over her shoulder for a three three-quarter's pose, but it set me thinking about how she might be interpreted as a character in a story. First result: three Imagist haikus (with apologies to William Carlos Williams).
Picturing a World
Art historian Christine Guth has alerted me to the time Lilla Cabot Perry spent in Japan, beginning in 1897. Perry, whose style was much influenced by Claude Monet's Impressionism painted as many as thirty-five pictures of Mount Fuji, but this intimate, domestic scene of a woman showing a picture book to two little girls seems to me more likely to inspire a story.
It's interesting that the child in the middle stares out as if at a camera. That might suggest an awareness of a fourth person in the room. Perry? a narrator? another character? Turn it around: what might the painting suggest about a Western artist in Japan at the turn of the 20th C?
Okay, so not a female artist, but I couldn't resist William McGregor Paxton's portrait of a woman in a kimono contemplating a Japanese doll. (A female artist connection: the model may be his wife, painter Elizabeth Vaughan Okie.) What's useful to me in my musing on Japonisme as part of Jeanette's story is the way the picture can lead to thoughts about how a particular woman might react privately to a particular Japanese object. Is this Jeanette or one of her friends? Does the character hold a doll or teacup? What is the emotion aroused in her? in the reader? Looked at this way, there's no need worry about the Male Gaze or other scholoraly or critical criteria. As for the golden frame, well, of course, I had to include it when I took a screen shot!
Image via Sotheby's.
One of the things I'll have to think about is whether Jeanette is more attracted to Japanese objects per se or to the art of Western Japonists, e.g., Henri Somm—or Mary Cassatt. Certainly, one of Jeanette's friends can be caught up in the craze for netsukes and small decorative objects. They all love fans and parasols. Amy can add Japanese blue-and-white to her teacup collection. Meanwhile, I love this image for reflecting my process of musing. See also Somm's Fantaisies Japonaises of 1879
Back to a possible future for my character, Jeanette Palmer, and Japonisme. I have thought for a long time that children's book illustrations could be one direction for her career to take. In that connection, the Red Rose Girls offer lots of hints. And now, although I don't yet know a thing about it really, the influence of Japanese woodcuts on early twentieth century illustrators seems clear. So hurrah for Helen Hyde! She actually went to Japan and learned woodcut technique. A quick search on-line has quickly turned up three informative, well illustrated websites to get me started: (1) An American in Japan: Helen Hyde. (2) Pioneering Women Printmakers: Helen Hyde and Lilian May Miller in Japan. And (3) In Memoriam Helen Hyde, American Japoniste. If you only look at the picture, enjoy!
A quick follow-up to Bernhardt and Japonisme. Here's a decorated fan painted by female artist Louise Abbéma portraying Sarah Bernhardt in a kimono. What better to inspire some detail or other for a new story set among women in Paris at the time of the 1889 Universal Exposition? For more about the vogue among Western artists for painting Asian-influenced fans, click here.
Image via Wikipedia Commons.
Blog post alert: Japonisme in Fashion. The title says it all. The images range from artists' works to actual garments (including a gowns and cloaks by the House of Worth) to historical photos to this poster for Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado. And for a more scholarly article, be sure to consult Esther Sophia Sünderhauf's The Influence of Japonism on the Parisian Fashion Journals 1860-1900.
It's not hard to find 19thC depictions of women wearing kimonos painted by male artists—Monet, Stevens, Whistler, Chase. But what interests me as I think about how Japonisme might touch my character, Jeanette, is the extent to which female artists drew or painted them. Et voilà, in addition to Marie Danforth Page—Fanny Fleury! She even studied with Carolus-Duran.