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TWO NEWLY DISCOVERED VIEWS OF THE ISLAND OF DESHIMA
The Dutch were the fourth European country to start trade with Japan. The English withdrew themselves and with the Spaniards and the Portuguese subsequently banned, the Dutch East India Company from 1639 enjoyed exclusive rights as the only European country admitted into Japanese harbours. From 1641 their staff were housed on a small artificial island in the Bay of Nagasaki. This island, Deshima, had first been built for the Portuguese. However, since the Japanese considered the missionary activities of Portuguese Jesuits a threat to the recently unified Japan, they were expulsed in 1639. And the Dutch, who had initially witnessed this restriction of the Portuguese amusedly as some kind of prison, were now in turn obliged to move to this 'prison' themselves. Yet, some of the Dutch residents on Deshima would later look back at their stay there as by far the best period in their lives.
Apart from two brick-built storehouses, named the Doorn and the Lelie - to the right and near the town of Nagasaki - all of the some thirty buildings were constructed in the Japanese tradition by Japanese merchants. Normally, the lower storey was used for the storage of goods, the upper storey being inhabited by the some twelve to fifteen Dutchmen residing there permanently. At their head was the 'Opperhoofd', the Captain, or chief trader, nominated by the Government of the Dutch East India Company. The other staff was comprised in a Warehouse Master, several Clerks, a Cook and some servants, and then there was the Japanese staff, headed by a Burgomaster representing the house-owners, the official interpreters and the equally official spies. Without special permission, no Dutch were not allowed to leave the island and equally, no other Japanese, except for prostitutes, were allowed to enter onto the island.
One exception, however, was made in the early nineteenth century, when the Japanese painter Kawahara Keiga was given permission to work for the Dutch, on a commission basis. Keiga (1786 - after 1860) had been trained in the local guild of goy-eshi, a group of painters in the service of the Governor of Nagasaki with the specific task to record in painting all foreign imports, both by the Dutch and by the Chinese. In this way, a local tradition of naturalist or true-to-life painting evolved at Nagasaki. Keiga had probably been trained by Ishizaki Y-shi (1768-1846). From about 1817, Keiga almost exclusively worked for the Dutch and as a result, he now represents the sole example of a Japanese painter with the majority of his work to be found outside of Japan: some two-thousand paintings versus only 45 in Japanese collections. Although he seems to have worked to the satisfaction of the Opperhoofd Jan Cock Blomhoff (1817-1823) and Warehouse Master Overmeer Fisscher (on Deshima from 1820-1829), the famous Philipp von Siebold was not so readily impressed with Keiga's skills and asked the Governor-General at Batavia (present-day Jakarta) to dispatch a real painter. Thus the Swiss De Villeneuve came to Japan, coincidentally also teaching Keiga some lessons in Western perspective and the effects of cast shading. However, as Overmeer Fisscher would write later 'This painter has so much work that he is obliged to employ also some assistents, all of them doing this work in order to make a living'. As a consequence, the Keiga Studio made use of examples which were essentially copied when a new commission was made. With most 'designs' or 'models' surviving in two or three copies, the total of different designs is much smaller than the number of surviving works.
As for the representations of the Island of Deshima and its buildings, of the Bay of Nagasaki with Deshima in the foreground, or the handscrolls of Daily Life on Deshima, these would normally be in stock waiting for the two ships arriving annually from Batavia. At a little extra cost, the name of the Captain or the names of the ships would be added. Among these, paintings of the Island with its buildings were most common. Consequently, they were also regularly updated, to correspond with the actual situation - generally, the Dutch complain regularly about the maintenance of the buildings, postponed repairs and thus, buildings disappear, are being repalced, etc., enabling us to quite precisely date these depictions. In this case, the presence of the external roofed double staircase on the facade of the Opperhoofd's house dates the painting to the late 1810s or the 1820s. This staircase was a later addition to the house, first rebuilt in 1808 by Opperhoofd Hendrik Doeff (1777-1835) after it had been lost in the 1798 fire on the island. It also figures clearly on the map of Deshima Island made up by W.L. van Guericke in 1822 (now in the Kinki University Library, Osaka) and in that drawn in 1828 by Siebold for illustration in his Nippon.
To date, only five other paintings representing this situation have been identified, showing Deshima Island seen from the North, that is from the town of Nagasaki:
- Kawahara Keiga, Painting in colours on paper, 360 x 890, Reiss Museum, Mannheim (Deshimazu, Nagasaki 1987 [and reprinted 1990], Pl 168);
- Kawahara Keiga, Painting in colours on silk, 366 x 915, Suifu Meitokukai Sh-k-kan Library, Mito (Deshimazu, Pl 170);
- Keiga Sudio, Painting in colours on paper, 455 x 104,5, Nagasaki University Library, Nagasaki (Deshimazu, Pl 171);
- Keiga Sudio, Painting in colours on silk, 195 x 423, Maritiem Museum 'Prins Hendrik', Rotterdam (Deshimazu, Pl 176);
- Keiga Sudio, Painting in colours on silk, 470 x 920, Musie de la Marine, Paris (Deshimazu, Pl 177).
Only the first two of these are - like the paintings here - signed by Kawahara Keiga.
As for the View from the South, that is seen from the Bay, no other examples from this period have been identified.
Dr. Matthi Forrer
Curator Japanese Art
Nationan Museum of Ethnology, Leyden