Henry SOMM

La Japonaise

Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

Medium Watercolour, with pen and black ink

Dimension 20.8 x 16.3 cm (8¹/₄ x 6³/₈ inches)

Like several of his contemporaries, Henry Somm developed a fascination with Japan. He studied the Japanese language and in the early 1870s had planned a trip to Japan that was abandoned with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war. He was friendly with the pioneering ‘Japoniste’ art critic and collector Philippe Burty, and often used oriental motifs in his work. Indeed, Somm became one of the earliest artistic exponents of Japonisme, his work in this genre first developed in his illustrations accompanying a series of articles by Burty under the general title of ‘Japonisme’, published in the magazine L’Art in 1875 and 1876. As the Somm scholar Elizabeth Menon has noted of the artist, ‘His fascination with Japanese art is manifested in countless drawings, watercolors, and etchings that depict Japanese geishas, street scenes, and gardens, as well as Oriental objets d’art…Several watercolors painted in the 1880s depict women in Japanese dress and some appear to be geishas – women trained to sing and dance for the pleasure of men. Somm’s fascination and glorification of the Japanese woman appears to be a reaction against the “modern female”, who emerged during the belle époque.’

The present sheet may be included among a group of vibrant watercolours by Somm of women in Japanese dress, several of which depict the subject in a nearly identical pose to that of the woman in this drawing.

Another closely comparable watercolour, of similar dimensions, was with Stephen Ongpin Fine Art in 2009 and is today in a private French collection.

Laid down.

Medium: Watercolour, with pen and black ink

Signature: Signed Hy. Somm at the lower right.

Dimension: 20.8 x 16.3 cm (8¹/₄ x 6³/₈ inches)

Provenance: Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s South Kensington, 3 June 1992, lot 25.

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