Hiroshige III, The Fine Arts Museum and the Shojo Fountain at the Second National Industrial Exposition in Ueno Park

Utagawa Hiroshige III (Japanese, 1842–1894) The Fine Arts Museum and the Shojo Fountain at the Second National Industrial Exposition in Ueno Park, 1881. Oban Triptych.

This strange and luminous image is one of the well known examples illustrating the end product of the great Meiji revolution. It shows the spirit of optimism and investment that irredeemably changed Japan from an inward looking nation into the great industrial and military machine of the twentieth century. The print shows the courtyard in front of the Art Museum in Ueno Park, built by the British architect Josiah Conder in 1881. Of course this building and all the other buildings in the Park are designed in the British Imperial tradition of the classical greco/roman style. A style that was completely at odds with the traditions and the native materials of Japan.

The First National Industrial Exhibition was held in 1877 and attracted nearly half a million visitors. The Second National Industrial Exhibition was even larger and open to the public on March 1, 1881.  Such fairs followed European and American examples where the newest manufactures from Japan and abroad could be displayed. These were early demonstrations of technological might and must have seemed very alien to the ordinary Japanese people. The three meter high fountain seen in the centre of the print was in the form of four shojo (mythical sea-dwellers) supporting a ceramic jar on their backs. The people are shown in a mixture of traditional and western style attire strolling in the front courtyard and around the Shojo Fountain.

What cannot be easily reconciled is the extraordinary colour of the print which borrows a little from the earlier Japanese woodblock landscape tradition.  Similarly the drawing style of the non-western elements - trees and water etc - are straight from the landscapes of Hiroshige I sixty years earlier. There is no real explanation for the livid sky! M.I.T have an interesting collection of industrial age prints including this image.  Other copies of the print are available here on Wikimedia.

An historically very important print. Colour and impression are fine. The surface of the print is marked and condition is fair. Mounted onto Japanese album backing.

73 x 36 cm.