Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Postcards from a war

These beautiful but somewhat unsettling images are from a set of postcards issued in commemoration of Japanese naval victories in the Russo-Japanese War. The artist is Saitō Shōshū.

The cards are part of the Leonard A. Lauder Collection of Japanese Postcards at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. At least some of the images are viewable on the MFA's own website -- I didn't manage to find all of them there -- but MIT's online exhibition Asia Rising: Japanese Postcards of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), which draws from the Lauder Collection, has nine of the ten that were originally published (one has not been located), and presents them in a continuous horizontal strip as they were designed to be viewed.

The next two images, also by Saitō Shōshū, form a separate but kindred pair.

And finally there is this delicate collage, which combines depictions of warships with scenes of underwater life and bears the title Naval Boat Kolz, which seems somewhat mysterious given that "Kolz" sounds neither Japanese nor Russian.

All nations that go to war produce propaganda and glorify their heroes, though perhaps not often with such a sophisticated flair for graphic design. What gives these images a slightly sinister quality is not so much knowing that the events they portray were, in a sense, the opening salvos in what would be a forty-year conflict for supremacy with the Western powers, as it is the eerie presence of death that hovers over them, a presence all the more disturbing for its subtle aesthetic pleasures.

Most of these images are also reproduced in Art of The Japanese Postcard, MFA Publications, 2004.

1 comment:

Carlene said...

Those are amazing. And you are so right about the beautiful yet sinister quality.