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In 1856 Charles Wirgman set off from London to the Far East as official illustrator and reporter for the Illustrated London News, with the intention of covering the deteriorating international relations between Britain and China. He reached Hong Kong in the spring of 1857 where he based himself for four years, making several expeditions into China and a visit to the Philippines. During these years he mailed reports to The Illustrated London News. Many of his drawings were engraved and used in the magazine. In May 1861 Wirgman arrived in Japan, where he settled in Yokohama, married a Japanese wife, Ozawa Kane, and witnessed the opening of Japan to the Western powers at the end of the Shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji era. He taught Japanese students to draw and paint in the Western style and founded the humorous monthly The Japan Punch in 1862.


Wirgman is still considered the patron saint of Japanese cartoonists whom every year hold a ceremony at his grave in Yokohama on the day he died in 1891. Clearly Wirgman enjoyed people-watching; few drawings are simply topographical, for he was by inclination as well as profession an observer of humans.


 For a collection of another eleven watercolours of Japanese characters by Charles Wirgman see our catalogue Uit Verre Streken, March 2015, number 62. Wirgman’s work can be found among others, in the Britsh Museum in London and the National Museum of Japan in Tokyo.


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