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The Allure of Japan

Museum of Fine Arts 
Boston 
March 24–December 31, 2012

The American fascination with Japan, ignited by the 1854 opening of trade relations between the two nations, was further cultivated by the availability of goods from the East in specialty shops, reproductions of Japanese buildings at World’s Fairs, and Japanese objects displayed in exhibitions, including an influential display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


The Modern Poster/Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, by William H. Bradley. Published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895, relief process, printed in color. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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The Allure of Japan brings together a range of these objects —  brightly colored advertising posters, finely wrought black and white etchings, roughly detailed woodblock prints, and luminous watercolors — from the MFA’s collection to illustrate the enormous influence Japanese visual traditions had on artistic practice in America at the dawn of the 20th century. Carefully grouped works succinctly communicate how elements drawn from traditional Japanese art, such as decorative patterns, sensuous curves, flat stylized planes, bold contrast, and subject matter, influenced American art.

In this cross-cultural exchange, which included artists like George Mann Niedecken — best known for his collaborative work with architect Frank Lloyd Wright — lay the seeds of Modernism.