Art is in Europe cultivated in the houses of the few, and those few scarcely know either the beauties or the value of the plant they are cultivating. That is the privilege of a class rather than the rightful inheritance of the many. The world is too much divided into the artist on the one hand and the Philistine on the other. But it is not so in Japan, as it was not so in ancient Greece. In Japan the feeling for art is an essential condition of life. This is why I expect so much from the interest in Japan which is now awakening in England.

The report of the Japanese Commission sent to Europe to investigate the conditions of Western art, some years ago, startled Western minds considerably. The Commissioners gave it as their opinion that Japanese art was the only real living art. This surprised, perplexed, and irritated many people, as home truths generally do. Without adopting in integrity every word of the Commission's report, I must confess that I found in it a great deal of truth.

The great characteristic of Japanese art is its intense and extraordinary vitality, in the sense that it is no mere exotic cultivation of the skilful, no mere graceful luxury of the rich, but a part of the daily lives of the people themselves. It is all very well to draw gloomy deductions about the decay of Japanese art from the manufacture and the importation of curios destined for the European market. That there is such an importation there can be no doubt, any more than that this condition of things will continue while people fancy that they are giving proof of their artistic taste by sticking up all over their walls anything and everything, good, bad, and indifferent, which professes to come from Japan or to be made on Japanese models.... [31-32]

... Although we are doing our best, with our love for gimcrackeries, to cheapen and degrade the artistic capacity of Japan, our evil influence has been but partially felt, and so but partially successful. Having done all the harm we can do unwittingly, let us pause, if possible, and reflect before we wittingly do further mischief.

The problem to the lovers of art is simply this: shall we learn all we can learn — and that is a great deal — from the living art instincts of Japan, or shall we continue to blunt and deaden the productive power of Japan by encouraging the barbarous demand for worthless baubles to make ludicrous the home of the so-called aesthete? If those who are most proud of the Japanese toys and trinkets they have amassed, which, with semi-savage stupidity, they have nailed upon their walls and stuck upon their shelves and tables, could but see what an artistic house in Japan is like, they would learn some startling truths as to the real facts and principles of Japanese decoration and the Japanese ideal of art.... [34]


Menpes, Dorothy. Japan: A Record in Colour. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1901. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Libraries. Web. 14 July 2019.

Created 14 July 2019