Expertly backed with later thick paper, gold speckles on back of scroll, decorative wrappers with gold-pigmented manuscript label: “Uraga joriku no ezu” [“Landing at Uraga Illustrated”]. Fine paintings executed with brush & ink, many colors of wash, and metal pigment, with manuscript captions. Japan: after “Kaei 6” .
A remarkable example of a “Black Ship Scroll,”a rare contemporary illustrated Japanese account of Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s incursions into Japanese territory in July 1853 and February 1854. Ours is a composite scroll of drawings of varying dimensions by at least three artists; most of the images concern Perry’s first expedition, but two relate to the second. The anonymous artists responsible for the paintings in this scroll were exceptionally skilled; their renderings effectively convey the surprise Japanese observers must have felt at the sight of the American squadron’s steamships, as well as the unfamiliar customs and behavior witnessed when meeting the Americans face to face.
Our scroll commences with a superb painting of what is probably Perry’s flagship in July 1853, the USS Susquehanna, a sidewheel steam frigate. The central smokestack emits ominous black smoke, and the gunports are menacingly open. We have seen a number of Japanese depictions of American warships from the period, and this is among the finest. The text to the right of the image provides approximate measurements, details of the ship and its engine, and the number of crew members (“more than 500”). There are also some observations on the other ships in the American squadron.
The next two scenes relate to the official meeting between the two sides that took place on the beach at Kurihama, near the capital, Edo. Japanese security forces had hastily constructed a reception hall where representatives could meet for negotiations. An American procession, led by a military band, is shown marching to Kurihama. The Japanese caption states that there were 500 sailors. In the middle of the column are two young boys carrying bright red boxes, which contained official letters from President Fillmore to be presented to the Japanese Emperor. A tall man with gold epaulettes behind them is certainly Commodore Perry. A Japanese note labels him as “Grand Commander.” The adjacent illustration shows how security forces from three local fiefdoms prepared for the tense meeting by encircling the reception hall with troops. Japanese ships outnumber the rowboats on which the American delegation arrived.
Subsequent paintings are of armed American sailors in their formal uniforms. From right to left they are captioned: “Captain,” “Captain,” “Foot Soldiers.” Once again, the artist has meticulously recreated their uniforms and weapons. The sailors’ faces, often neglected in “Black Ship Scrolls,” are treated with great detail. The text to the left states that the “North Americans” stayed in Uraga for fourteen days.
We are then presented with a most impressive panorama of Kurihama’s reception hall and all four American warships at anchor just moments before the delegations convened. The American procession is about to enter the hall. Several geographical landmarks and persons of note are marked. This is the first time we have seen a rendering of the meeting from this vantage point; it is extremely useful for understanding the way in which the Japanese security forces cautiously prepared to host the Americans for talks. The calligraphic text in the top left recounts the day’s proceedings and adds that the painting in our scroll is based on an original drawing by an eyewitness.
The following section has six amusing portraits of American officers, including Perry. These come from a different illustrator; the sheet of paper bearing these portraits has been pasted on to the scroll. Part of the sheet has been carefully repaired, obscuring a couple of characters. From right to left are: “Grand Commander, Peruri [Perry]”; “Vice [Commander], Atamusu [Adams]”; “Uriyansu [Williams], Translator for Japanese”; “Hottomen [Portman], Translator for Dutch”; “Son of Perry”; “Ship Captain Appoto [Abbot].” The caption under Abbot’s portrait says that he was promoted to commodore; he had previously been captain of the USS Macedonian.
The final two paintings have rare depictions of Americans dancing and putting on a minstrel show for their Japanese counterparts during Perry’s second, decisive expedition. These have also been pasted at the end of the scroll. On the right, two Americans are in the middle of a dance routine. The left shows nine singing sailors playing instruments to entertain their Japanese hosts. Although our illustration does not clearly show them with blackface, the Japanese text on the left describes them as having “black faces, red lips, cotton attire, and blue-and-white-striped trousers.” Their performance is spotlighted by two candles and Japanese burikki — from the Dutch for “metal sheet,” blik, these thin iron sheets reflected the candlelight. This is an extremely rare illustration — we have never seen this image before — of the minstrel show that Perry and his sailors put on for their Japanese hosts aboard the Powhatan in March 1854.
In near fine condition; small but inoffensive wormholes, not touching any illustrations. Unidentified red ink ownership seal at the beginning. Stored in a modern wooden box.
❧ For a useful survey of “Black Ship Scrolls” at the Library of Congress, see Renata V. Shaw, “Japanese Picture Scrolls of the First Americans in Japan” in The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, Vol. 25, No. 2 (April 1968), pp. 134-53.
Item ID: 9410