Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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The Fitting
The Fitting
Chûbon no zu (Picture of the Middle Class)
Chûbon no zu (Picture of the Middle Class)

What makes a work of art appealing to a foreign audience?

After Japan opened up to trade and political relations with the wider world after the mid-nineenth century, cultural exchange with the West boomed. Japanese prints, in particular, were greeted avidly by European and American audiences and artists alike. But this was not the first time artistic ideas were traded between East and West. The very Japanese prints that so fascinated viewers in France, England, and the U.S. were themselves influenced to varying degrees by Western aesthetics.

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Questions to Consider

  • Mary Cassatt was heavily influenced by Japanese prints like the one seen above. What elements does Cassatt borrow from the Japanese aesthetic in The Fitting? Where does she depart from the model offered by Japanese art?
  • Both Cassatt and Utamaro dealt with class issues in their work. How does each artist distinguish the social positions of his or her figures? Does there seem to be any shared language of class in the two works?
  • Why do you think works such as this one by Utamaro held such great appeal for Cassatt and her contemporaries? What role do you think the print medium played in the spread of Japonisme?

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