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Portrait of Takeaki Enomoto (1836-1908) by an anonymous Japanese painter  Meiji period, late 19th century

Portrait of Takeaki Enomoto (1836-1908) by an anonymous Japanese painter

Meiji period, late 19th century


Ink, colour and gofun on silk, framed.
Painting: 79.5 x 50 cm
With frame: 103.5 x 64.5 cm



Takeaki Enomoto, a Meiji government official, is painted in very fine detail standing next to a Chinese style table upon which a globe, painted in white gofun and a book bearing a coat of arms. He is wearing a western frock coat and holding a cane. Takeaki Enomoto was a ket player in the events which led to the establishment of the Meiji government. He also made a significant contribution to Japan’s relations with the West in the late 19th century. He was born as a lower-ranking samurai, but rose up to hold various important posts in the Edo period government. Enomoto studied Dutch naval science in Nagasaki, which during the Edo period was the only city in which the Dutch on the small artificial island Deshima, were permitted to stay and trade. He then continued his studies in Holland from 1862, and became fluent in Dutch and English. In 1867 he returned to Japan and was appointed to a senior naval post in the Tokugawa bakufu (government). However, in 1868, the Tokugawa bakufu was overthrown by the warlords of Satsuma and Choshu, and the Meiji Emperor was reinstated as the figurehead of a new government.

Enomoto resisted the takeover of the Meiji government by fleeing with eight warships to Ezo (Hokkaido) and establishing a Tokugawa “republic” as the last military stronghold opposing the new regime. In spring 1869 Enomoto surrendered and peace was officially restored to the whole of Japan. When he surrendered Enomoto sent the notes he had made on navigation in Holland to the commander of the army, stating that they would be useful for the country. This conduct impressed the Meiji government and therefore he was imprisoned rather than executed. In 1872 he was pardoned and immediately appointed to office in the government. He was sent to St. Petersburg as a diplomat to negotiate over the ownership of Sakhalin and Kuril islands. He was successful in concluding a treaty giving Sakhalin to Russia but keeping the Kurils for Japan.

His achievement was celebrated as the first in which Japan and a Western power were treated as equals. Enomoto rose to cabinet rank within the Meiji government and his positions included that of the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce. The globe and book here are clear references to Enomoto’s international experience.

The book bears a coat-of-arms with notable similarities to that of Napoleon III (1808- 1870). During Enomoto’s time in the Tokugawa government negotiations between France and the Shogunate began. The first French military mission to Japan, sent by Napoleon III, arrived in 1867. With the mission came Captain Jules Brunet (1838-1911) a military officer who joined the last stand of the Shogunate “republic” in 1868 by fleeing north with Enomoto to Ezo.

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