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Japanese Art in France and the Representation of Femininity from a Female Perspective

Chenxiao Jin

History of Art


Year of study:

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Japanese art was immensely popular and influential in France in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The Japanese woodblock prints, in particular, attracted the attention of Western artists because they provided not only an alternative language that transformed Western artistic traditions but also a means to challenge prevailing social codes. Amid this cultural climate, women artists also adapted Japanese prints to represent femininity from a female perspective. However, deviating from the norms of the patriarchal society, their interpretations had been subsumed under the generalisation of art from this period as defined by male creativity. While the formalistic impact of Japanese art on French art has been comprehensively examined, its gender dimension has often eluded scholarly attention.
This talk will focus on the woman artist Mary Cassatt and her colour prints to demonstrate that women artists tended to engage with Japanese art from a gendered perspective. I will analyse how Cassatt adapted Japanese aesthetics into her own art in order to resist the prevalent gender stereotypes that are present in the works of her male contemporaries. By emphasizing Cassatt’s role in the cultural encounter, I aim to contribute to the feminist deconstruction of art history in order to better understand the historical positions of women artists and to raise awareness on how they came to be marginalised in the writing of art history.

My name is Jin and I am a final year History of Art student. I have always been interested in art because I grew up watching Japanese anime and enjoyed making some doodles on my own. I knew very little about History of Art when I began my study but one thing that has become very clear to me is that artworks are never as neutral as they might appear. As a Chinese student living in Glasgow, I am aware of how an artwork can acquire different meanings when it is transplanted from its original context into a completely different visual culture. As a female, I also feel drawn to the female side of art history. Motivated by my personal experience and inclination, I therefore seek to understand the link between the topics that have always piqued my interest. The research is an academically and personally rewarding experience as it makes me more culturally aware, which is useful when pursuing my other hobbies like reading novels and learning languages.

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