Queen Victoria’s Lost Japanese Screens Rediscovered in Royal Collection

A pair of lost Japanese screen paintings sent to Queen Victoria in 1860 as part of a lavish diplomatic gift have been rediscovered in the royal collection.

The screens, which were thought not to have survived, will be on public display next month for the first time since they arrived more than a century and a half ago.

Extensive conservation work since their discovery has revealed curious details about their history.

Fragments of railway timetables were found to have been used to repair the coins while they were on display at Windsor Castle during Victoria’s reign.

The Victorian railway timetable used to repair screens (Royal Collection/HM Queen Elizabeth II 2022/PA)

The timetables were used to cover the torn areas, probably because replacement Japanese paper was not readily available, and the stations listed start at Windsor, suggesting that the repairs may have taken place at the castle.

Rachel Peat, curator of the exhibition Japan: Courts and Culture, said: “After decades of believing that these important gifts were lost, this rediscovery is extraordinarily significant.

“The screens marked a new era of diplomatic engagement between Japan and Britain and brought the dazzling beauty of Japan’s changing seasons to the heart of the British court.

“I am delighted that visitors are seeing them on display for the first time, just as they might have been admired for the first time by Queen Victoria.”

The screen depicting Mount Fuji
The screen depicting Mount Fuji ((Royal Collection/HM Queen Elizabeth II 2022/PA)

The paintings on the screen depict different seasons, showing Mount Fuji in spring with cherry blossoms, and the Miho no Matsubara Scenic Area of ​​the Miho Peninsula covered in pines and autumnal red maples.

The coins were part of the first diplomatic gift between Japan and Britain in nearly 250 years.

Eight pairs of folding screens were sent by Japanese shogun Tokugawa Iemochi soon after Japan reopened to the West after more than two centuries of deliberate isolation.

The opulent gift to Victoria marked a historic treaty that reopened seven Japanese ports and towns to British trade and allowed a British diplomat to reside in Japan for the first time.

Screen Details
Details on one of the screens (Royal Collection/HM Queen Elizabeth II 2022/PA)

But the screens were erroneously cataloged as Japanese works by an unidentified artist when they arrived, and their connection to the Iemochi shogun and their historical significance were lost.

Curators at the Royal Collection Trust raised the possibility that they still exist during research for the exhibition Japan: Courts and Culture, and Dr Rosina Buckland, Curator of Japanese Collections at the British Museum, translated the artist’s signature on both screens.

The signatures and style have been compared to those received by other European monarchs around the same time.

Screen paintings
The second of the pair of screen paintings is dominated by a scene from Miho no Matsubara (Royal Collection/HM Queen Elizabeth II 2022/PA)

The coins – featuring two to three layers of paper rather than the usual six to nine – were also found to have been hastily produced, likely due to a huge fire at Edo Castle in Tokyo which reportedly destroyed the original versions before they can be sent. in Victoria.

The screens will be part of Japan: Courts and Culture, the first exhibition bringing together the collections of Japanese artwork from the Royal Collection, which will open at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace on April 8.

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