Wilhelm Heine (Dresden 30 January 1827-Löbnitz 5 October 1885)
‘Funeral of Robert Williams in the cemetery of the Temple Gyokusen-ji at Shimoda in April 1854’
With a sticker on the reverse of the frame by Coupil & Co. 1855
Watercolour on paper, H. 57 x W. 92 cm
Depicted is the Bay of Shimoda with seven American ships including the two paddle-wheel warships USS Mississippi and Susquehanna. On the Gyokus- en-ji temple grounds on the right is the coffin in the middle with the remains of US marine Robert Williams, ready to be lowered into the grave. Looking on from the left are the Buddhist monks and Japanese officials who joined the first Christian funeral on Japanese soil. Around the grave are US marines, Commodore Perry and some officers and to the right, Reverend George Jones is performing the Christian funeral rites. This was an epoch-making moment in the history of Japan.
Wilhelm Heine after studying at the Dresdner Akademie in 1848-49 received his first commission from Richard Wagner, a family friend, to design décors for the Königlichen Hoftheater in Dresden. In 1849 he fled to the United States following the suppression of the May Uprising in Dresden in which
he participated (together with Bakunin). In New York, he set up his artist studio at 515 Broadway. After meeting the archaeologist and diplomat, Ephraim George Squier, Heine was invited to accompany him, as an artist, on his consular duties to Central America, to investigate the possibilities of a canal through Nicaragua. Proceeding ahead of Squier, he stood in as consul, negotiating commercial agreements between Central American countries and the United States, which he delivered to Washington. While in Washington he met with President Millard Fillmore and Commodore Perry and was selected for the post of the official artist of the Perry expedition
Heine served on the flagship USS Mississippi and visited Okinawa, the Bonin Islands, Yokohama, Shimoda and Hakodate in1853 and 1854. The sketches and paintings he made of the places he visited and the people he met, together with the daguerreotypes taken by his colleague Eliphalet Brown jr formed the basis of an official iconography of the first American expedition to Japan. Back in New York in 1855, he published several books, including 'Graphic Scenes of the Japan Expedition', in which many of his paintings were lithographed, but not the present painting. At present only three of the original painting made during this expedition have been retraced in the USA. In 1855 Heine became an American citizen.
Heine went back to Germany where he instigated and joined the Prussian Expedition to East Asia in 1859. Again Heine made many sketches and paintings while in Japan. In 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War in the United States, Heine returned to the USA and joined the Union Army. He was wounded in battle and returned to Germany for treatment.
After the war Heine became clerk to the American consul in Paris, Liverpool and in his home town Dresden. In Dresden Heine published his last major work 'Japan, Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Landes und seiner Bewohner' with many photo-reproductions of his drawings, published in a very expensive small edition by C.C. Meinhold & Söhne, ordered by subscription by German and Austrian Emperors, kings and dukes. In this luxury edition is a photo-lithograph entitled 'Grabstätte in Simoda' which shows the cemetery of the Temple Gyokusen-ji at Shimoda but doesn’t show an actual funeral as the present painting does.
After his death 41 of the then remaining 50 original paintings were donated by his son-in-law to the Museum Fünf Kontinente in Munich. Of the unknown number of original paintings Wilhelm Heine made during his first expedition to Japan under Commodore Perry, and subsequently left behind in the USA, at present three are known: one “American sailors and marines drilling in the temple grounds at Shimoda, June 8 1854” (49 x 94 cm) in the Collection of Brown University Library, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, one in a private collection in the USA, and the present one.
Coupil & Co, whose sticker is on the frame, was one of the most prominent prints and art dealers of the 19th century. Initially established in Paris in 1829, Goupil expanded to London in 1842, to New York in 1848, and went on to develop an extensive network of branches and partnerships worldwide.