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Japan on a Glass Plate. 19th Century Photographs from the Kurokawa Collection

September 22, 2023 till March 3, 2024


The exhibition offers a unique insight into Japan in the late 19th century. The collection has never been shown before and is one of the most important and extensive private collections of Meiji photography in the world. The 155 photographs, taken from both Japanese and foreign studios, display extraordinary artistry and are of great historical value.

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The nascent photo industry, at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912), found a good market in the influx of Westerners to Japan. Initially, the photos were bought as a souvenir, but soon they started to function as a travel guide. Immediately after arriving in Japan, often the first visit was to the photo studio. There the tourist would order the beautifully made photo album that would help him determine his travel schedule. It is noteworthy that these photos also gained popularity among a Japanese clientele. They even competed with the woodblock print market. This was because these photographs revealed an astonishing virtuosity, not only in composition but also in the technique of hand-coloring. The latter brought the photos a new level of vibrancy.

These photos of beautifully dressed geishas, samurai warriors, wrestlers and other flamboyant figures from everyday life, beautiful gardens, bustling cityscapes and theater performances give a true picture of Japanese society at a time when Japan was opening up to Western ideas. 'Japan on the Glass Plate' shows the visitor a unique view of a tuning moment in Japanese cultural history and the history of photography.

The Kurokawa Collection is known for its comprehensiveness with works from virtually every photo studio active in Japan. The works are in exceptionally good condition. There is work by photographers such as Felice Beato, Baron Raimund von Stillfried, Adolfo Farsari, Kusakabe Kimbei, and Ueno Hikoma. In addition, twenty-six objects related to the photos are display.

The exhibition has its premiere in Leiden, after which it will then travel to Winterthur and Sao Paulo.

Catalogue and activities

A catalogue written by guest curator Sebastian Dobson is on offer in our museum shop during the exhibition.

Japan on a Glass Plate, The Adventure of Photography in Yokohama and Beyond, 1853–1912, by Sebastian Dobson (Ludion 2023), 208 pages, hardcover, price €46,50.

Furthermore, a wide and varied activities programme will accompany ‘Japan on a Glass Plate’.

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