Previously On View: September 9, 2017 through July 22, 2018

See exhibitions currently on view.

Passion for the Exotic: Japonism explores the newfound influence of Japan on Western design in the late 19th century. A closed society until 1854, Japan ended its self-imposed isolation after American Commodore Matthew C. Perry led a fleet of armed steamships into Japanese ports and secured a trade treaty. Subsequently, Japanese exports such as metalwork, ivories, lacquerwork, woodblock prints, ceramics and textiles flooded the marketplace, providing inspiration with their wealth of distinctive decorative elements, many drawn from nature. As part of a broader interest in “exotic” cultures during the late 19th century, newly available Japanese design sources were soon joined by those of India to help create a European and American Aesthetic Movement.

Showcasing nearly 50 works from the permanent collection installed in the Teak Room, this focused exhibition celebrates the inspired dialogue between Western design and Japanese aesthetics.


The Teak Room

One of Cooper Hewitt’s greatest treasures, the Teak Room now hosts a series of special exhibitions dedicated to the era of its creator Lockwood de Forest. The room represents the most complete existing de Forest architectural interior in America still situated in the its original site. Its style is notably different from the rest of the house except for the trim of Andrew Carnegie’s bedroom, now a gallery in the Hewitt Sisters Collect exhibition next door. In the Teak Room, the Indian influence is evident in the patterned wall stenciling lacquered in yellow. It creates a golden light that is reminiscent of Indian latticed screens. Although the walls and ceilings were painted on canvas on site, the carved teak, including that of the built-in cabinet, came from de Forest’s studio in India, using primarily native designs that he adapted.

Lockwood de Forest

America’s leading Aesthetic Movement champion of Indian design, designer and painter Lockwood de Forest (1850–1932) created the Teak Room, which served as the Carnegie family library. The room displays de Forest’s passion for the exotic, and defines his role in creating an Indian style of interior decoration in late nineteenth-century America. During this time collectors and painters flocked to the Middle and Far East for examples of extraordinary craftsmanship, inspiration for interior decoration, and unusual settings to paint. Lockwood de Forest travelled with American painter Frederic Church in Greece and the Middle East before setting out in 1881 to India. There, de Forest remained over a year establishing a studio guided by the Jain merchant Muggunbhai Hutheesing in the city of Ahmedabad. In addition to overseeing de Forest’s studio, Hutheesing employed master craftsmen to create decorative teak wood and brass panels designed or approved by de Forest, which the designer then exported to the United States for his and Tiffany’s use in aesthetic interiors.


Passion for the Exotic: Japonism is made possible in part by The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.


During the Morse Historic Design Lecture, Beatrice Quette, a woman with short curly dark hair lectures from the podium at Cooper Hewitt while audience members look on.
The Morse Lecture | Japan, the West, and the Emergence of Japonism in Design
Béatrice Quette looks at the design objects and art that fueled the West’s enthusiasm for Japan.
Carved dragon vase (first kiln - in red); cast, cream colored stoneware body with hand-modeled dragon encirling the shoulder and neck in high relief with one leg freestanding. Cobalt blue underglaze and red overglaze decoration; gilt highlights. On reverse, fan-shaped panel of pale underglaze blue painted in overglaze brown with birds flying above cattails and rushes. Allover highly stylized, partially gilded wave pattern. Clear glaze.
The Woman Behind Artful American Ceramics
In celebration of Women’s History Month, March Object of the Day posts highlight women designers in the collection. This dragon vase was made at Frederick Dallas’s Hamilton Road Pottery by Maria Longworth Nichols. Nichols worked there before founding her own firm, Rookwood Pottery, later in 1880. This example is marked with a number “3” on...
Close up image of vase with delicate white flowers painted on the surface
Japan, the West, and the Emergence of Japonism in Design Celebrating the exhibition Passion for the Exotic: Japonism, this lecture examines the historical context of the Japanese influence on European and American design at the turn of the twentieth century, highlighting important museum exhibitions, dealers and collectors of Japanese works that exposed Eastern art and...
American Craft, Japanese Design
This pitcher was manufactured by Rookwood Pottery, an American art pottery company founded in Cincinnati, Ohio. Rookwood was begun by Maria Longworth Nichols in 1880 after she was enamored of the Japanese ceramics on view at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Nichols originally proposed to her father that they bring a Japanese pottery—“workmen...
A Rockefeller Relic
From our archives, an Object of the Day on the Japonism-inspired wallpaper that was once installed in the Rockefeller mansion formerly at 4 West 54th Street in New York City.
Image features rectangular ceramic form showing landscape in relief featuring trees, winding river, and two ravens or rooks. Rook with outstretched wings at center top of plaque, the other perched at bottom, below the Rookwood logo. In various colored mat glazes: dark and light greens, brown, tan, pale sea-green, fuchsia and black. Border and sides in a pale sea-green. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Two Rooks
From the archives, an Object of the Day blog post on Rockwood Pottery, one of the manufacturers featured in the exhibition Passion for the Exotic: Japonism.