Foreigners were of particular interest to 19th-century Japanese printmakers.
Some examples of how Japanese artists viewed foreigners and their life styles can be seen here at the Asia Society in an exhibit of prints from Nagasaki and Yokohama from the Richard Gump Collection. The exhibition comes to New York from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
Among the subjects depicted in the prints are sea captains, foreign traders, ships, and imaginary views of the West. Technology was popular, too. Renderings of trains, steam engines, velocipedes, and steam-powered side-wheelers are included. There are also copies of European prints that depict cityscapes, as well as portraits of famous and not-so-famous foreigners.
The port cities of Nagasaki and Yokohama, where these 41 prints were made, served as centers of contact with the West. This made them attractive areas for artists eager to catch a glimpse of the outside world. And the prints became popular souvenirs among the Japanese to satisfy their curiosity about foreigners.
Of the two cities, more is known about prints from Yokohama, because titles, signatures, and seals were usually included with the work.
After the exhibit at the Asia Society ends Aug. 29, the International Exhibition Foundation will send the show on a nationwide tour.