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This exhibition is in the past. View our current exhibitions.

Trade

From the 1630s, Japan’s military rulers (shōguns) isolated the country from the outside world to reduce foreign influence. For 200 years, the Dutch were the only Europeans permitted to trade directly with Japan. However, demand for exotic Japanese goods remained high in Europe, where the secrets of porcelain and lacquer manufacture were not yet known.

Despite these restrictions, royal collectors such as Mary II (1662–94) and George IV (1762–1830) acquired Japanese art via Dutch and Chinese traders, assembling some of the finest examples in Britain. Costly imports of furniture and porcelain became an established feature of royal interiors, representing luxury and cosmopolitan taste.

Japanese wares were also adapted and imitated by European artists, who freely imagined a distant and mysterious land.

The design of this cabinet represents a type of Japanese export lacquer popular for its decoration of landscapes with mountains and temples overlooking water. Its shape is adapted from earlier export cabinets with a fall-front concealing drawers of variou
Lacquer

Furniture and goods skilfully decorated with urushi, a varnish of lacquer

Master: Two figures of Japanese ladies
Porcelain

Highly prized in Europe, Japanese porcelain was admired for its dazzling enamel decoration

A watercolour of The King's Gallery at Kensington, a luxury handcoloured version of one of the plates from William Henry Pyne's History of the Royal Residences (1816-1819). The King’s Gallery is the principal room on the second floor of the south-fa
Japan in British Palaces

How Japanese works of art were displayed by royal collectors, 1680-1820

Japan Through European Eyes

How Japan was portrayed during its period of seclusion from the rest of the world


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