Japanese culture and its art and artefacts were steadily drawn to the British public's attention through a series of exhibitions in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The result was a flourishing Japonisme – a taste for things Japanese – and it was under this prevailing mood that Hornel and his friend George Henry set forth to Japan in 1893, 'to see and study the environment out of which this great art sprung, to become personally in touch with the people, to live their life, and discover the source of their inspiration' (E. A. Hornel quoted in Bill Smith, Hornel, Atelier Books, Edinburgh 1997, p. 89). The thirteen month trip had a great impact upon Hornel's artistic career. On his return to Scotland, he exhibited his Japanese paintings at Alex Reid's gallery in Glasgow to high critical acclaim with audiences captivated by his dazzling portrayal of Japanese life.
Hornel's experience of Japan provided him with an ongoing source of inspiration. He revisited the subject throughout his career, forever enchanted by the tea cermonies, the beautiful dancing, the elegance of the young woman and their vibrant costumes. The decorative splashes of colour he employs display the influence of Japanese art but the formal composition approach is largely his own. He uses more intense, mosaic-like brushwork and colour which displays the influence of the French Provencal painter Adolphe Monticelli (1824-1886). The Japanese Garden reveals Hornel's enthusiasm for Japanese culture, while the energetic surface, the dynamic postures and expressive faces of the geishas reflect Hornel's driving interest in rendering life and movement in his art.
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