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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Edwardian Craze for Japonisme

Russ Bowes explains how English gardeners fell under the spell of stone lanterns and laquered bridges a hundred years ago. Thank you, Russ.


The Japanese garden at Gunnersbury Park, West London

Image: Time Travel Britain

By Russell Bowes

The Japanese style of gardening in England forms a slight but diverting episode in garden history, being associated primarily with the late 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th.  Japan, as far distant from the British Isles as it is physically possible to be, expelled all foreigners and severely curtailed overseas trade in 1639 after a series of diplomatic incidents involving Portuguese missionaries, and remained impenetrable to the western world until the mid-19th century. Such sparse information about the country and its people as was available filtered back through the trading posts of the Dutch East India Company, beyond the confines of which it was almost impossible for Europeans to step. After consular relations were re-established in 1854, trade barriers fell, and the fashion for Japanoiserie, like that for Chinoiserie during the previous century, hit the British Isles with the force of a tidal wave. 

As well as blue and white china, lacquered screens, kimonos and paper fans came information about gardens.  The ‘dry’ garden of rocks and pebbles failed to catch the Edwardian imagination. Its minimalism appeared alien and radical to an increasingly conventional and materialistic English society, but more fundamentally its layers of meaning were too sophisticated for the Edwardians to comprehend.  So the dry garden was, in the main, ignored.  It was the Japanese water garden, or tea garden, that fired the English imagination.


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Posted by Julie on 07/28 at 10:44 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink