Published: October 10, 2000
Peabody Essex Celebrates 200 Years of Japanese-US Cultural Exchange
SALEM, MASS. – Around 1800, a young American nation was sending out its fleet in search of new trading partners in the Far East. Two ships from the bustling port of Salem, Mass – the Franklin and the Margaret – had opened up trade at Nagasaki in the little known land of Japan. Soon they would bring back cargoes loaded with beautiful arts and crafts to the states.
The success of the Salem ships was fleeting, and it would be more than 50 years before Commodore Matthew Perry reestablished trade again and offered Americans a chance to rediscover Japan’s rich culture.
A major exhibition organized jointly by the Peabody Essex Museum and the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Japan brings this early commerce to life again through the artistic and cultural treasures it yielded. “: The Dawn of Japanese and American Exchange” showcases more than 200 artworks, cultural objects, and documents dating from the early years of trade between Japan and America. The exhibition drew more than 92,000 visitors last fall to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and opens at the Peabody Essex Museum November 17.
“” was presented in Japan as part of the Peabody Essex Museum’s bicentennial celebration. The museum was founded as the East India Marine Society in 1799 by a select group of seafaring entrepreneurs who collected art and artifacts from around the globe. Japan was one of the little known cultures that these visionary men helped introduce to America.
“Most people, both here and in Japan, believe that America’s first contact with the Japanese came with Perry’s ‘black ships’ in 1853,” says Andrew Maske, the museum’s curator for Japanese Arts and Culture. “This exhibition makes it clear, however, that American ships not only visited Japan as early as 1799, but brought back trade rdf_Descriptions that included works of art. A surprising number of these precious objects have been preserved, and from the most intriguing section of ‘World’s Revealed.'”
This exhibition includes artworks brought back by the first American ships at Nagasaki, including woodblock prints, hanging scrolls, and glazed ceramics. Visitors can contrast Western and Eastern styles of maritime art with a Dutch watercolor of the Franklin, and a hanging scroll depicting Nagasaki’s port in 1799 by Japanese artist Shiba Kokan.
The exhibition will also lead visitors into the dangerous world of whaling that brought many Japanese and Americans together on the high seas. Among the works are L. Garneray’s 1834 painting, “Attacking a Right Whale,” which became the most widely reproduced whaling image in America; scrimshawed whale teeth; and a mid Nineteenth century hand scroll depicting the American whaler Henry Kneeland’s rescue of a group of Japanese mariners in distress.
There are also artworks depicting the early contact between Japan and the Portuguese and Dutch. A six paneled screen from the Seventeenth Century portrays a Portuguese ship unloading in a Japanese port. Its title, “Arrival of the Southern Barbarians,” explains how some Japanese viewed these newcomers. A rare, late Seventeenth Century porcelain horse illustrates the fine craftsmanship Europeans came to expect of Japanese artisans.
“” culminates with the cultural wealth that flowed after the 1854 Treaty of Kanagawa and the establishment of permanent trade between the United States and Japan. Images of Perry and his fleet from both American and Japanese artists illustrate how differently the two cultures viewed this critical chapter of world history. One image, Ishibashi Richo’s 1854 handscroll, is ominously titled “The Black Ships.”
Yet despite such divergent perspectives, Westerners came to highly prize Japanese arts and crafts after the treaty. One large Satsuma vase with detailed depictions of gods, devils, and a phoenix bird, shows why such works were valued. There is also a group of rare, fully clothed, life-like models of Japanese men, women, and children created in the late Nineteenth Century.
“” also includes artworks, photographs, and documents from the renowned collection of Edward Sylvester Morse, a one-time Peabody Essex director and one of the first Americans to discover the richness of Japanese culture through his travels and teachings there.
Morses’s “Japan Day by Day” and “Japanese Homes and their Surroundings” are still standard Western studies of the Japanese aesthetic. Some of the objects Morse described in those works will be on display in “,” including Bunzo Watanabe’s late Nineteenth Century watercolor depictions of Japanese village life. Together with a circle of friends that included Charles Goddard Weld and Ernest Fenollosa, Morse had a tremendous impact on the West’s view of Japan.
The museum is open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday, and from noon to 5 pm Sunday. For information call 800/745-4054.
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