Japanese spirit, Western technology; explore the changing styles and techniques of Meiji decorative arts.
This trail provides an introduction to the key developments in artistic styles and techniques in Japan during the Meiji period, using examples from the Ashmolean collection.
The Meiji period (1868-1912) was a time of major transformation and development in Japan, both in the way the country was governed and in its role internationally.
In the 1850s, Japan was opened up to the West after 250 years of virtual isolation. Like many Asian countries at the time, Japan signed treaties with industrialized nations in the West and was eager to achieve equal status with these powers.
The resulting programme to modernise Japan along Western lines affected every aspect of Japanese life. There was a new constitution, land and education reform, and changes to the justice and transport systems. Although the Emperor remained the titular head of the nation, a new parliamentary system replaced the Tokugawa shogunate - a feudal, class-driven authority that had governed the country since the early 1600s.
Artists of the time were encouraged to produce works for an expanding overseas market. The resulting styles and decoration of the period reflect a desire to represent Japan's developing sense of national identity, while incorporating Western techniques and fashions that would win acclaim at an international level.
The Meiji art collection
The Ashmolean Museum started actively collecting decorative works of art from the Meiji period in 1987. The collection contained a few pieces already, several of which were purchased by Sir Herbert and Lady Ingram on their honeymoon in Japan in 1908, and later given to the Museum.
In 1991 the Museum held the first exhibition of Meiji period decorative art since the period. Since then the collection has developed and the Museum has specialized by acquiring work by some of the finer artists in order to be able to trace the evolution of their styles.