© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London | Licence: CC BY-NC-ND
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London | Licence: CC BY-NC-ND

'Tycoon's Palace, Yedo (inside the outer moat)' [Tokyo, Japan]

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From the Collection


From an album by James Henry Butt (1844-1936) containing 51 watercolour drawings, 50 mounted on separate pages, with one loose item and three blank sheets. They are mainly in chronological order and were presumably mounted in the album and captioned later, generally in pencil on the album page below the image, though some have monograph signatures, brief inscriptions and dates. The opening view of Cape Town is followed by 45 Eastern ones, mostly coastal, with two figure studies of Japanese girls. The last two drawings are an undated view of Posillipo, near Naples and one of Start Point, Devon, the latter made in August 1870 before Butt's next (home) posting in May 1871. He made all the others while second and subsequently third lieutenant of HMS 'Sylvia', survey ship, Commander Edward Wolfe Brooker (1827-70), which sailed for the China Station in late 1866 via Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and the Andaman Islands to undertake hydrographic work mainly in southern and western Japan. No. 8 of 51. inscribed by the artist, as title, and dated on the album page, and signed 'JHB' on the lower left corner of the drawing. 'Tycoon' (great lord) was originally an alternative Japanese term for describing the shogun to foreigners. The Nishinomaru Palace within the Castle of Edo (now Tokyo) had been the seat of the Japanese shogunate (military governing dynasty) since the 17th century - while the emperor was maintained as a symbolic head of state residing in Kyoto. The 15th and last Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, acceded in 1866 but resigned in late 1867 without ever residing at Edo, during the events which precipitated the formal restoration of the Meiji imperial dynasty. In May 1868, the Emperor resumed residence in the Castle of Edo, which became the castle and Imperial Palace of Tokyo at the same time as the city's name changed to Tokyo. The Nishonomaru residence was destroyed by fire in 1873 and the site subsequently much altered. Butt therefore saw it at a critical moment, and possibly only because it was not officially occupied at the time. The sentry on the right bears a Western firearm.

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© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

From the Watercolour World


Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan