Asian Influences

Chinoiserie, the name given to the Western interpretation of Asian design in the 17th and 18th centuries, affected architecture, interior design, the decorative arts and other aspects of culture. Garden design, for example, moved away from formal, geometric layouts toward a naturalistic, Asian-inspired format.

Inspired by Asian cultures and traditions following increased trade with the East, the style was at its height from 1740 – 1770 and was much favored by European aristocrats. The ritual of tea drinking prompted the production of numerous associated objects. Women became avid collectors of the porcelain that flooded the market. Chinese motifs decorated ceramics and, by the first half of the nineteenth century, the UK Spode pottery company was already using the "cracked ice" pattern.

Asymmetry and stylization of nature were thus familiar characteristics of design when Japanese objects and works of art began to filter into European cities, following the opening up of Japan to the Western world in the mid-nineteenth century. Wood-block prints influenced artists both in Paris and London. In 1862, the first significant collection of Japanese goods to be seen in the West were featured at the International Exhibition in London. The display, from the personal collection of Sir Rutherford Alcock, British Consul in Japan from 1859–1864, caused great excitement and influenced a number of British architects and designers, such as William Burges, Christopher Dresser and E. W. Godwin. Painter and ultimate Aesthete, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, advocated Japanese objects as an essential ingredient in the artistic home.

During the Meiji period (1868–1912), Japan became modernized and Westernized and by the mid 1870s, Japanese artisans were producing affordable goods specifically for the Western market. The Japanese government participated enthusiastically in various international exhibitions including the Philadelphia Centennial (1876), where the Japanese Pavilion, the first major exhibition of Asian goods in America, was enthusiastically received.