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Japanese treasures from the Royal Collection go on display together for the first time

Release date: Friday, 8 April 2022

Samurai armour in Japan: Courts and Culture

©

The first samurai armour ever seen in Britain; splendid coronation and jubilee gifts presented to monarchs from Queen Victoria to Her Majesty The Queen; and a never-before-seen woodcut print of Buckingham Palace are among the highlights of the new exhibition Japan: Courts and Culture, open from today (Friday, 8 April) at The Queen’s Gallery, London.

The Royal Collection holds some of the finest examples of Japanese art and design in the western world. For the first time, more than 150 works have been brought together to tell the story of 350 years of diplomatic, artistic and cultural exchange between Britain and Japan, from first encounters under James I to the modern partnership of The Queen’s reign.

The exhibition displays together for the first time all four suits of samurai armour in the Royal Collection. These include an armour sent to James I in 1613 by Japan’s military leader – the first known samurai armour to arrive on British soil and the first diplomatic gift between Japan and Britain. 

Exquisite gifts presented by the Japanese Imperial Family to mark the coronations and jubilees of British monarchs will be on display, many for the first time, including an embroidered folding screen sent to Queen Victoria by the Emperor Meiji for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and a miniature lacquer cabinet presented to Queen Mary for her Coronation in 1911.

The Emperor Shōwa sent this rare and refined piece to Her Majesty The Queen as a Coronation gift in 1953 – just one year after Japanese-British relations had been normalised by the Treaty of San Francisco, signed in 1951 and brought into force in 1

Lacquer box with heron, c.1890–1905 | RCIN 39503 ©

On the occasion of Her Majesty’s Coronation in 1953, the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) sent The Queen the first post-war diplomatic gift between the two nations: a box decorated with a delicate silver heron by the great lacquer artist Shirayama Shōsai. Nearly 70 years later, as the nation celebrates Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, visitors to The Queen’s Gallery will have the opportunity to see this exquisitely crafted Coronation gift up close.

Gifts were also sent to mark treaties between the two nations. A pair of colourful folding screen paintings, recently rediscovered and on display for the first time, were sent to Queen Victoria by Shōgun Tokugawa Iemochi in 1860 to mark the first treaty between Japan and Britain for almost 250 years. The gift also included glittering mother-of-pearl spears, lacquer furniture, swords by leading court swordsmiths, and porcelain saké bottles that still contain traces of their original contents, all of which feature in the exhibition.

Through the centuries, many members of the British royal family have enthusiastically acquired Japanese works of art, but Queen Mary was perhaps the most prolific royal collector. Highlights on display from her collection include delicate folding fans and colourful woodcut floral prints. An atmospheric woodcut print of Buckingham Palace at dusk, on display for the first time, was presented to Queen Mary in 1928 by Makino Yoshio, one of the most celebrated Japanese artists in Britain at the time. The print perfectly represents this period of growing artistic exchange: an iconic British landmark, depicted in a traditional Japanese medium.

A woodcut print of Buckingham Palace at dusk by Yoshio Markino

Makino Yoshio, Buckingham Palace, London, seen across Green Park, c.1911. © Akinori Makino

Through the centuries, many members of the British royal family have enthusiastically acquired Japanese works of art, but Queen Mary was perhaps the most prolific royal collector. Highlights on display from her collection include delicate folding fans and colourful woodcut floral prints. An atmospheric woodcut print of Buckingham Palace at dusk, on display for the first time, was presented to Queen Mary in 1928 by Makino Yoshio, one of the most celebrated Japanese artists in Britain at the time. The print perfectly represents this period of growing artistic exchange: an iconic British landmark, depicted in a traditional Japanese medium.

Related exhibition
Japan: Courts and Culture

An exhibition on arts and relations that have flowed between Japan and the British Royal Families