Good heavens, I love this picture. In the original French, the title for this painting is L’admiratrice du Japon; translated into English, the title The Japanese Fan is a double pun, making reference to the fan on the floor, and the woman herself.
It was painted by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe, who was born on February 4, 1829 in Courtrai, Belgium. He was a painter of figures and genre scenes, working in both oils and watercolors. De Jonghe was the son of Jan Baptiste de Jonghe, himself a talented artist and Gustave’s first teacher. (How often have we come across artists initially trained by their fathers?) Afterwards, Gustave continued his artistic studies with the acclaimed master teachers and artists, Louis Gallant and Francois Josef Navez (1787 – 1869). Gustave would also study under the famed Belgian artist, Alfred Stevens (1828-1906).
De Jonghe began working in Paris and beginning in1850, exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon and continued to do so throughout his career. The Paris Salon awarded him with a third place medal in 1863 and, that same year, he received a medal in Amsterdam. Honors increased in 1864, when Belgian King named him Chevalier de l’Ordre de Leopold.
In 1882, de Jonghe suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and returned to Brussels. In 1884, he moved to Antwerp, where he would die in January 1893. Most of his work now rests in private collections, though several significant paintings can be found at the Musee d’Orsay, Paris, and The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia.
In 1855, Gustave de Jonghe moved from Belgium to Paris and exhibited regularly in the Salon for the next thirty years. This period was the dawn of the Aesthetic Movement, which celebrated the beauty and delicacy of blue and white china, and the subtle coloration and grace found in an idealized view of Japanese living. The Japanese and blue and white china craze would later enthrall such diverse figures as James Whistler (1834-1903), Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and de Jonghe’s own teacher, Alfred Stevens. Collecting china and Japanese clothing and kimonos became a mania in major European cities, and often served as shorthand for refinement and delicacy of taste. (Catalogs or picture books of Japanese scenes lie at our subject’s feet.)
The woman in the picture is obviously a fan of all things Japanese; and is the focus of the painting. The Japanese fan, though, which may also be the point of the title, is simply an object on the floor. The composition centers on the confrontation between the bird and the young woman which has, it appears, caused chaos in the room. It is uncertain whether the woman is disciplining the cockatoo or the bird is threatening her. To underscore the whimsy of the piece, the violent scene on the Japanese screen behind her reinforces the impression of a conflict between the two antagonists.
The wit of the picture is matched by de Jonghe’s masterful execution and composition. Though the Japanese influence would later mean much to the Impressionists, de Jonghe flawlessly delineates kimono, dresser, china and screen. Also precise is the subject’s expression, easily recognizable to any pet owner, just wait until I get my hands on you….