French Impressionism was a direct reaction to the boorish, factory-like
French Academy and it's tightly governed style of painting. Largely because
of this, the various artists we now associate with Impressionism soaked up
outside influences like a sponge, amongst them, photography, scientific color
theory, and the subject matter of the Industrial Revolution, especially
trains and train stations. However, it might be that the strangest outside
influence to insinuate itself into the Impressionist movement was the art of
Japanese prints.

In the late 1800's Japanese society was only just beginning to open up, and
trade with the western world was sparse or non-existent. How could it be
then that the dramatic diagonals and asymetrical compositions that so delight
the eye in the art of Japanese prints came to influence artist like Degas,
Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others? Actually, it happened largely by
accident. One of the first and most valuable commodities exported from the
islands were fragile Japanese porcelains. These exquisite art objects had to
be packed very carefully to survive the torturous sea voyage to Europe and
eventually Paris, that hotbed of Impressionist insurrection. You guessed it,
those precious art objects came wrapped in another form of artwork, discarded
Japanese prints. One man's trash is another man's treasure.