A Japanese scroll painting depicting a Dutch Ship
Nagasaki School, late 18th century
Watercolour on paper, mounted on scroll,
H 48.5 x W. 53 cm (image)
H. 139 x W. 59 cm (scroll)
Paintings and prints of VOC ships, this one with the VOC monogram and an illegible ship’s name on the stern, which lay at anchor before Deshima Island in Nagasaki Bay, were popular ‘souvenir’ images with Japanese visitors to the port city.
The first to make detailed studies of Dutch ships was Hayashi Shihei (1738-1793), a samurai from Sendai and rangakusha (‘Hollandologist’) with a great interest in European and American military affairs. Worried about the inadequacies of the coastal defences of Japan in case of a foreign invasion, he published his Kaikoku Heidan (Military discourses on a maritime nation) in 1791. In this work, he emphasized the threat to Japan of European and American maritime sea power. Shihei made three journeys to Nagasaki in 1776, 1778 and 1782,
in order to study the armed Dutch merchantmen at anchor in Nagasaki Bay. He studied the East Indiamen in great detail and incorporated all his data in a large print that he designed himself. Shihei’s design formed the prototype for later Nagasaki prints and paintings of Dutch armed vessels. He himself was not given the opportunity to make a name as a designer of prints of Dutch ships.
He was imprisoned by the Shogunate government on the charge of undesired interference with state affairs. Eventually, his predictions about a foreign invasion would come true with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry.