19th-Century Japanese Printmaking II
After over two centuries of seclusion and strict regulation of foreign trade, Japan concluded a treaty to open two Japanese ports to American commerce in spring of the year following Commodore Perry's trip to Japan in 1853. Additional treaties with other Western nations quickly followed. The Japanese had long been fascinated by foreign intellectual thought, which had been gradually introduced beginning in the 18th century. In the mid-19th century, the need to meet the challenge of Western industrialization came to the fore as the Tokugawa shogunate crumbled. A series of broad political, social, and economic changes was introduced in 1868 with the enthronement of the frrst Meiji emperor and the restoration of imperial power. Tokyo's rush to modernize is effectively represented in the triptych by Kuniteru II, while Kiyochika's interest in Western techniques of modeling and atmospheric perspective present another aspect of artistic borrowing by printmakers of the late 19th century.
With the thriving trade of the late 19th century came Japan's realization that Western powers were carving out spheres of influence in East Asia that posed a threat to Japanese security. When Japan decided to pursue its claims to Korea, it used a rebellion against the Korean ruler in 1894 as the pretext for introducing Japanese troops. Korea had called upon China for assistance, but the Japanese attacked the Chinese and declared war after the fact on August 1, 1894. A succession of quick victories resulted in an 1895 treaty that ceded Taiwan to Japan, but Japan's desire to annex Korea and Manchuria was halted by the intervention of Russia, Germany, and France. At the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, Japan was finally able to block Russia's claims in these areas. Japan's exclusive rights over Korea were recognized and control over various Manchurian trade ports and railways was established. The battle prints in this exhibition, which were created by artists who never visited the front lines, convey the nationalistic pride that swept over Japan during these wars of expansion.