亜墨利加國蒸氣車往来 [Amerika-koku Jōkisha Ōrai, “The Transit of an American Steam Locomotive”]
Issen [Utagawa], Yoshikazu [illustrated by].
[Tōkyō: Maruya Jinpachi, Bunkyū Gannen (1861)].
This eye-catching triptych of an American "steam train" is believed to be based on an image of the Japanese embassy arriving in 1860 in Washington, D.C., from the Illustrated London News. Ann Yonemura gives the following description of this triptych in Yokohama: Prints from Nineteenth-Century Japan (1990, p. 162):
"The popular image the Japanese held of the United States in the early 1860s was that of a powerful and technologically advanced nation. The first Japanese embassy to the United States in 1860 provided a group of well-educated and promising young men with a firsthand experience in the young Western country. Wood engravings for newspaper illustrations of that embassy to America provided Japanese artists with models for the costumes and customs of Americans. Figures based on those illustrations were repeated in later prints of foreign subjects.
The figures in the foreground of this print are also drawn from illustrations of Americans from Western periodicals. The dominant image in the background purports to represent a steam locomotive, but its scale and some of its details, such as the large wheel on the right, make it clear that the artist has depicted instead a paddle-wheel steamboat. The print is coloured almost entirely in black and gray, shades that impart a nocturnal ambience." While the vehicle in the background does indeed use elements of a steamboat, it is clear that the pilot (or "cowcatcher") of a locomotive has been used for the front of the vehicle, resulting in a train-boat hybrid.
Utagawa Yoshikazu (active ca. 1850–70), the artist, was a pupil of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861). He went on to design many yokohama-e prints of foreigners and their customs as Japan opened up to trade. A striking pre-Meiji triptych providing insight into how Bakumatsu era artists sourced ideas for ukiyo-e from Western publications.
Three colour woodblock-printed leaves, complete. A few small ink marks made during printing. Extremely light stains to verso extremities, not visible on printed side. Two tiny washi repairs to verso. Very minor wear to corners. Fine overall. Each print measures approx. 36.7 x 25.2 cm. Text in Japanese.