Peacock Textile, Musée Guimet

Three peacocks march along a stream, surrounded by cherry blossoms, magnolias, peonies, and orange lilies in full bloom. One of them majestically spreads its wings, occupying a large space in the picture. While most of the flowers have subtle colors, the blue of the stream, some red and orange on the flowers, and most importantly, the generous use of gold in the background makes the image splendid and elegant. This work is a large-scale tapestry made by Kawashima Jinbei II (1853 – 1910) in Kyoto, around 1908. Its use of articulate lines and details almost trick the viewers into believing it is a painting. This tapestry was made with a loom called the Jacquard machine, purchased by Japanese students of textile art in 1872 in France. This tapestry exemplifies the peak of Meiji period textile art (or Meiji textile fine arts, 明治美術染織 Meiji bijutsu senshoku) and represents the exceptional match between Japanese traditions and European technology.

Detail from Kawashima Jinbei II (1853-1910) for the Kawashima Textile Company, Group of Peacocks, Cherry Trees and Magnolias in Bloom, ca. 1908. Silk tapestry with metallic filaments.

Tapestry was a new form of art in Japan that catered to changing domestic and international demands. Some tapestries were made for display at World’s Fairs outside of Japan as well as in domestic exhibitions in Japan for Western style exhibition venues. The Imperial household also commissioned textile companies in Kyoto to produce tapestries for interior decoration, and many were made using looms based on European technology.

From the end of Edo period and into the Meiji period, textile industries lost many clients as the shogunate lost its political and financial power. Because this transition affected many skilled craftsmen and artists, particularly in Kyoto, the prefecture of Kyoto sent many students abroad to study European technologies. The students brought back twenty John Kay’s flying shuttles and two Jacquard looms along with other textile equipment (Namiki, 28). These looms were capable of making complex patterns at a fast pace. The workers of Japanese loom factory studied this imported technology and came to domestically produce Jacquard looms for Japanese textile craftsmen. Established textile companies such as the Kyoto Textile Company, Nishimura Sozaemon XII, and Kawashima Jinbei II incorporated these domestically made Jacquard looms from around Meiji 20 (1887) for producing tapestry (Namiki, 53).

Jacquard Loom by Joseph-Marie Jacquard. Developed in 1804-05

Detail showing complex weaving using colored threads with metallic filaments

The new technology did not produce works entirely in European style, however. Painters from traditional art schools in Japan designed tapestries, stage curtains, kimono, and other materials. The design on this tapestry resembles the style of the Maruyama school, and the subject of peacocks with luxurious blooming flowers were very popular among Maruyama school painters. Although the original painting for this tapestry is unclear, original designs for other tapestries by important artists, such as Takeuchi Seiho (a Nihonga painter that adapted Maruyama style), remain today.

Thus, this tapestry represents the use of newly acquired foreign technology adapted for Japanese painting traditions. Textile art was one of the many crafts that saw revolutionary change due to the political, technological, and social effects during the Meiji period. It synthesized European and Japanese technology and art, through the collaborative efforts of textile businesses, loom factories, and painters.

Namiki, Seishi ed. Kyoto dento kogei no kindai. Kyoto: Shibunkaku Shuppan, 2012.

Naoko Adachi


Posted on

November 9, 2018