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Indepth Arts News:

"Cultural Riches of Early Japan-US Trade"
1999-09-28 until 1999-12-12
Peabody Essex Museum & Edo-Tokyo Museum
Salem, MA, USA United States of America

It was 1799, and a young America was sending out its fleet in search of new trading partners in the Far East. Two ships from the bustling port of Salem, Massachusetts, 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 fifty-five years before Commodore Matthew Perry reestablished trade again so Americans could rediscover Japanís rich culture.

A major exhibition organized jointly by the Peabody Essex Museum and the Edo-Tokyo Museum brings this early commerce to life again through the artistic and cultural treasures it yielded. Worlds Revealed: The Dawn of Japanese and American Exchange showcases more than three hundred artworks, cultural objects, and documents dating from the early years of trade between Japan and America. The exhibition opens at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Tokyo, Japan on September 28 and will run through December 12, 1999.

Worlds Revealed is part of the Peabody Essex Museumís bicentennial celebration. The museum was founded as the East India Marine Society in 1799 by an elite group of ship captains and supercargoes who collected art and artifacts from around the globe. Japan was one of the little-known cultures that these visionary entrepreneurs helped introduce to America.

Whatís special about this exhibition is that you have 200 years of Japanese-American exchange in the collections of one institution, says Peter Fetchko, co-curator for Worlds Revealed. This is really as much a bicentennial of U.S.-Japan relations as it is a bicentennial of the Peabody Essex.

This exciting exhibition begins with 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 late-seventeenth-century porcelain horse illustrates the fine craftsmanship Europeans came to expect of Japanese artisans.

Later artworks brought back by the first American ships at Nagasaki are also on display, including woodblock prints, hanging scrolls, and glazed pottery. Visitors can contrast Western and Eastern styles of maritime art with a Dutch watercolor of the Franklin, and a hanging scroll depicting Nagasakiís port in 1799 by Japanese artist Shiba Kokan. Worlds Revealed also shows Salem at its zenith as an international port at the turn of the eighteenth century. Visitors to the Edo-Tokyo Museum will enter through a recreated portico of the Gardner-Pingree Mansion, built for a wealthy Salem ship captain, and into its stunningly adorned parlor.

Inside they will see a Japanese lacquered tea table surrounded by Federal furniture and other decorative arts in vogue at the time. They will see a mantel designed by famed Salem woodcarver and architect Samuel McIntire, and walls hung with paintings such as master portraitist Gilbert Stuartís 1825 Portrait of Charlotte Forrester.

From the port of Salem, the exhibition will lead visitors into the dangerous world of whaling that brought many Japanese and Americans together on the high seas. Among the works are L. Garnerayís 1834 painting, Attacking a Right Whale, which became the most widely reproduced whaling image in America; scrimshawed whale teeth; and a mid-nineteenth century handscroll depicting the American whaler Henry Kneelandís rescue of a group of Japanese mariners in distress.

Worlds Revealed culminates with the cultural wealth that flowed after the 1854 Treaty of Kanagawa and 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, Ishibashi Richoís 1854 handscroll, is ominously titled The Black Ships. Exquisite objects such as a late-nineteenth-century Kutani vase show visitors how highly prized these Japanese arts and crafts became after the treaty.

Also included are 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.

Morseís 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 Worlds Revealed, including Bunzo Watanabeís 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 Westís view of Japan. This exhibition will allow Japanese visitors to see their culture through Morseís eyes.

The Fidelity Foundation in America and the Ashahi Shinbun newspaper in Japan have provided corporate sponsorship for Worlds Revealed.

Japanese life and arts have always held a position of great prominence at the Peabody Essex Museum, says Edward C. Johnson III, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Fidelity Investments. The Fidelity Foundation has been pleased to support the museum and its interest in Japan.

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