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Durham e-Theses
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The Yōkai Imagination of Symbolism:
The Role of Japanese Ghost Imagery
in late 19th & early 20th Century European Art
Volumes I-III

ROWE, SAMANTHA,SUE,CHRISTINA (2015) The Yōkai Imagination of Symbolism:
The Role of Japanese Ghost Imagery
in late 19th & early 20th Century European Art
Volumes I-III.
Masters thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Volume III: Catalogue Raisonné of Published Sources on Japanese Art & Design up to 1924) - Supplemental Material
PDF (Volume I) - Accepted Version
PDF (Volume II: Illustrations) - Supplemental Material


This dissertation explores the influence of the Japanese yōkai, or ghost, imagery upon late 19th and early 20th century Symbolist artists in Western Europe. Japanese yōkai imagery, which we find in diverse mediums such as Buddhist handscrolls, woodblock prints and netsuke, gave vivid expression to a long established belief in Japanese culture in the existence of a world of ghosts and demons existing on the thresholds and borders of material existence. Yōkai imagery represents a very distinctive genre in the visual arts of Japan and the purpose of this dissertation is to tease out the specific impact that this discrete form of imagery might have exerted upon the Symbolist imagination within the wider context of japonisme and japonaiserie in European modernism.

The dissertation begins with an exploration of the concept of yōkai in Japanese culture and discusses the history of their representation in the visual arts. The second chapter turns attention to the availability of such representations to avant-garde artists particularly in France and Britain in the late 19th century. An exploration of the incidence of such yōkai imagery in private collections, exhibitions and in publications on Japanese art and culture shows that a distinctive ‘ghost’ genre was extant and accessible at this time to those artists who wished to exploit in their work. The third chapter explores the ways in which the Symbolist generation developed existing discourses on the ghostly and supernatural in European culture, why they should have engaged with this and suggests that Japanese yōkai imagery offered them an innovative, ‘exotic’ and more subtle vocabulary of discourse with which to reflect their experience of modernity. Case studies of Aubrey Beardsley, Odilon Redon, Paul Gauguin, the designers associated with Art Nouveau and artists such as Toorop, Delville and Ensor suggests that, to some extent, all these artists engaged with yōkai imagery in their own artistic practice.

The dissertation concludes that evidence exists to show that this specific genre of Japanese art did, indeed, exert an impact upon Symbolist thought and practice in Western Europe and makes the case for further investigative study to confirm preliminary findings and to extend research into an area of art historical study that has hitherto been poorly researched and unappreciated.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Education, School of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:31 Mar 2016 08:41

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