In April 2022, the Queen’s Gallery opened its doors to showcase a brand new exhibition. Entitled “350 Years of Japanese Art and Design”, this display will feature objects that have been gifted to the British Royal Family over the years. These pieces offer a unique insight into the relationship between Japan and the United Kingdom and showcase the beauty and diversity of Japanese art and design. If you’re interested in learning more about these two cultures, then this exhibition is not to be missed!
350 Years of Japanese Art and Design
For over 350 years Britain and Japan have had diplomatic, artistic, and cultural exchanges even through the most challenging time like the second world war. The gifts between the two countries start from the first encounters under James I to the modern partnership of the Queen’s reign.
Japan: Courts and Culture
This exhibition brings together over 150 works some of which have never been seen to tell the story of the 350 years. One of the highlights is the samurai armour, for the first time all four suits are on display.
The first diplomatic gift that was sent to James I in 1613 was the samurai armour. It came with a letter from Japan’s emperor telling Britain that Japan was open for trade allowing Britains to settle and do business in Japan. Unfortunately after 1630, Japan was closed off from the world for 220 years. All the objects from this period in the collection were bought on the open market from trading networks. Japanese items become elusive and were highly sort after.
The objects bought were to furnish the various royal residences. High demand was porcelain, but lots of other objects were bought but not for their intended purposes. Some of them were transformed using gold and other precious materials. They were used to harmonise the objects in the gilded rooms of the palaces around the country.
Japan Opening Back Up
In 1850 Japan reopened to the world and diplomatic ties were restarted. The first official diplomatic gift was sent to Queen Victoria a pair of screens that were embroidered. This was sent by Emperor Meiji for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
Other gifts sent in the coming years were a miniature lacquer cabinet that was sent to Queen Mary for her Coronation in 1911. It was created by Akatsuka Jitoku, he made only a dozen or so of his works outside Japan. So it is very rare. It is covered in the Imperial Chrysanthemum crest, and the drawers are decorated by mother of pearl butterflies.
In the exhibition, you will also see an account of King George IV when he was 16 in 1881. He describes in his diary using chopsticks for the first time and the two tattoos that he got. One of a dragon and the other a tiger. His diary is on display and you can read some of it.
In another part of the gallery, you will see some splendid sword blades and daggers together with the samurai armour. Some of the best swords in the UK, with their exquisite metalwork.
Her Majesty’s Coronation
In 1953, Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) sent The Queen a box decorated with a silver heron by the great lacquer artist Shirayama Shōsai this was for her Majesty’s Coronation. This was also the first post-war diplomatic gift between the two nations. As we celebrate The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee visitors will be able to see this close-up.
This exhibition is curated by Rachel Peat. “We are delighted to give visitors a rare chance to see these stunning works from Japan, which have been marvelled at, displayed, and cherished by members of the British royal family for centuries.”…
“We hope visitors will enjoy discovering the worlds of ritual, honour, and artistry that link the courts and cultures of Britain and Japan to this day.”
Below are some of the photographs I took during the press preview in early April 2021. Japan: Courts and Culture are on from 8th April till 25th February 2023 at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The closest tube station is Green Park and then a short 10-minute walk towards the Palace. Also, check out the shop with some fabulous gifts and a comprehensive book on the exhibition.
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