Japanese naval officers gathered around a cloth-covered table on the deck of a warship, discussing battle strategy for the invasion of China, during the Sino-Japanese War. A bearded man in white uniform stands at right, gesturing excitedly toward one on the maps spread out on the table. A seated officer at left points as he turns to his neighbour. Fantastic detail in the setting, with a mounted cannon at left and rigging framing a view of the calm sea and another Imperial ship at left.
The Japanese fleet attacked Port Arthur and Weihaiwei on 10 August and then patrolled the coast while they transported troops to the area. On 13 September, 1894, Japanese naval officers met on board ship to plan the strategy for the battle for control of the Yellow Sea.
Toshikata’s skills as an illustrator are evident here. The interaction of the figures through gaze, body position, and gesture informs the viewer that a real discussion is taking place. The close-up view of the protagonists gathered around the table, while the other Japanese ships wait in the background, dramatises this portentous meeting. The artist’s successful representation of space and perspective is the result of his training in the Maruyama-Shijō style and not of the new Meiji Western style painting (yōga).
September was a very active month for both countries. Each one bringing reinforcements to the front lines. On September 12, the last of these expeditions arrived at Chemulpo (Jinsen). It consisted of 30 transports carrying 10,000 soldiers, 4,000 coolies and 3,500 horses. The new commander-in-chief Marshal Yamagata was also on board. This fleet of transports was protected by a strong force of warships, divided in several squadrons. The Japanese fleet had made, on August 10, a first demonstration against both Port Arthur and Wei-Hai-Wei, and from then on kept patrolling the Korean Coast.
About the same time, the Chinese fleet was also engaged in protecting the transport of the Chinese troops. On September 14 five ships left Taku, having on board some 4,000 men destined for the Yalu River, convoyed by almost the entire Chinese fleet. All landed safely.
The same morning, the Japanese fleet reached the island of Hai-yang. But during the preceding days, the naval officers gathered to plan the forthcoming naval strategy for the battle soon to be fought.
In this triptych, dated September 1894, Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) portrayed senior naval officers debating strategy on the eve of Japan’s decisive victory for control of the Yellow Sea. The encounter, which took place on September 17, is said to have been the first naval battle in history between steam-powered fleets. The men are aboard on of Japan’s twelve warships, all built in Britain. One advantage the Japanese had was rapid-firing artillery as exemplified by the deck gun visible in the left panel of the print. It is a scene of calm before the angry storm;, the balanced, symmetrical composition and subdued colouring contribute to the dignified, serious mood of the occasion. Dressed to kill, this snappy group could easily be mistaken for Westerners.
Excerpt from the publication by The Metropolitan Museum of Art “The World of the Meiji Print: Impressions of a New Civilization, By Julia Meech-Pekarik”, pp 201-202.
Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,
The Worcester Art Museum.
The Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints.
References : Illustrated in the 1991 Worcester Art Museum Catalogue “In Battles Light”, Catalogue number 41. p.75.
Illustrated in the 2001 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts publication “Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age”, Catalogue number 30, p.76.
Illustrated in the 2008 paper Throwing Off Asia II: woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) by John W. Dower – Chapter Four, “Symbolic “China’”. p.5-6.
Illustrated in the 1983 publication “The Sino-Japanese War” by Nathan Chaikin, Catalogue number 42. P.77.
Illustrated in The Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints “Sino-Japanese War Prints (1894-1895)” (IHL Cat. #444).
Illustrated in the 2014 Stratus, Poland publication “Sino-Japanese Naval War 1894-1895. Maritime Series No 3105” by Piotr Olender. Page 62.
Illustrated in the 2006 Global Oriental Ltd publication “Japan and the Illustrated London News: Complete Record of Reported Events 1853-1899”, page 348.
Illustrated in the 1977 Kodansha publication, First Sino-Japanese War Nishikie Chronicle (Ukiyo-e, 1894-95), p.119.