EDWARD MEYER KERN (1823-1863)
"Peak Horner, Southern extreme of Japan"
Signed lower left and titled lower right
Watercolour and ink on paper, 24 x 35.5 cm
Edward Kern was an experienced expeditionary artist, photographer, topographer, cartographer and a zoologist. He had already accompanied John C. Frémont on several of his expeditions of exploration in the American West, when he joined the North Pacific Exploring Expedition (1853-56) organized by the United States Navy Department, to conduct a naval, commercial and scientific survey of the west coast of China and Japan. The North Pacific Exploring Expedition (also called the Ringgold- Rogers-Brooke Expedition after its two captains and astronomer) traversed the North Pacific Ocean, the Bering Strait and the China Sea, preparing accurate charts of areas frequented by American whaling ships and documenting shipping lanes from the West Coast to China and Japan, and at the same time gathering specimens and recording marine life, topography, flora and fauna encountered.
Peak Horner, so named by Krusenstern after the astronomer on board his ship during his circumnavigation of the world (1803-1806), is called Kaimon Dake by the Japanese. It is located at the extreme southwest of Kyushu island near the entrance to the city of Kagoshima’s port from the sea. Peak Horner would be an important landmark for captains in unfamiliar waters to locate and, from which to triangulate positions of nearby islands, headlands and harbour. Kern captures its lofty height (924 meters) and distinctive, unmistakably volcanic, profile as it rises from the water, dominating the coast that leads into the harbour. It is informative and picturesque at the same time. Kern, being a photographer, undoubtedly took photographs of Peak Horner as well.
The painting is also evidence of the newly opened Japan, after Perry’s Treaty of Kanagawa with Japan in 1853. William Stimpson, the expedition’s zoologist, wrote in his journal that the expedition rounded Peak Horner on 28 December 1854 and; “spent nine days in the Bay. We were invited to leave by local authorities, but demanded wood and water, since by Perry’s treaty United States ships could visit any port when distressed for supplies”. This was a loose interpretation of Article X of the Treaty of Kanagawa, which states “Ships of the United States shall be permitted to resort to no other ports in Japan but Simoda and Hakodadi, unless in distress or forced by stress of weather”. Anyway, the North Pacific Exploring Expedition completed surveying the coastal waters of Japan and returned to New York City in July 1856. It was an ambitious and vital expedition that is less well known than Perry’s diplomatic mission to Japan only because its findings were never published due to the onset of the American Civil War.