WATT, James.

Japanese fan depicting Watt's experiments with steam.

"An illustration of Mr. Watt, born in Scotland, conceiving the idea of the steam engine" [Sukotsūrando Koku ni Umare, Watto-shi Jōki (Kikan?) wo (Chakusō?)-suru Zu].

[c.1870] Stock Code: 141941
£2,500.00
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An attractive, delicate, and understandably scarce Japanese fan depicting the popular scientific myth of James Watt timing the condensation of steam from a boiling kettle, the Japanese caption reading "an illustration of Mr. Watt, born in Scotland, conceiving the idea of the steam engine". We have been unable to locate any comparable fans either institutionally or in commerce, making this a notable survival.

Although the event is alleged to have occurred in Watt's childhood in Scotland, here he is presented working in Japan as a contemporarily dressed adult, the scene through the window featuring a traditional Japanese sailing boat. This work appeared at a time of intense "westernisation" in Japan, a key feature of which was the proliferation of images of Western scientists in a traditional Japanese style. "This was a time when Japan was opened up to Western science and technology, and evidently to its mythologies also" (Miller, p. 19). These images were produced with the purpose of encouraging young Japanese students to take up the mantle of those depicted and were often issued directly by the Japanese Ministry of Education (Insley, p. 39). The prints had a second purpose of encouraging persistence in the face of adversity, either personal - for example a woodcut print issued by the Ministry includes Watt's aunt discouraging him "from his nonsense", or financial, the Preface to Accounts of Invention Hatsumei Kiji (1872), a popular text account of Watt amongst others, stating that "it is said that the Western inventors Watt, Arkwright and Stephenson were all initially poor, but they paid no mind to this and in the end their reputation has carried on through the ages" (Meade, p. 80).

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Description

Single concertinaed leaf of fan paper (430 x 125 mm). Window mounted in archival grade board (407 x 605 mm). Water-colour illustration, two red stamps, and black text to front. Stamp of sailing ship in black to reverse.

Condition

Remarkably well-preserved, minor nicks to edges; overall near-fine condition.

Bibliography

Helen Hardacre, New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan (1997); Jane Insley, "Picturing James Watt", in The British Art Journal (2011); Ruselle Meade, "Popular Science and Personal Endeavor in Early-Meiji Japan: The Case of Hatsumei Kiji" in Historia S

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