Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
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Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
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Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.



Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.



see also:

EXPLORATION: Japanese Ukiyo-e
Japanese Prints
Hiroshige's "Tokaido"
Hokusai's "Views of Mt. Fuji" and "Panoramic View of Sumidagawa River"
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi "Tsuki hyakushi" - 100 Aspects of the Moon
Sesshu's Long Scrolll
"East and West"





Japan had been almost wholly isolated from the West since the 17th century under the shoguns of the Tokugawa. Japan was ruled by a noble upper class with the shogun at the top. Though it gave the empire a long, peaceful period of 1 cultural flourishing, it also prevented access to Western modernization in the areas of technology and politics. Under internal political pressure, the last shogun was forced to step down in 1868 in favor of the emperor, who pushed ahead with modernization. During the Meiji period, Japan quickly came to lead Asian industrialization and was also successful in foreign affairs.


The End of Seclusion and Domestic Changes


The Western states contributed to the development of Japan as a market and trading center. The resulting domestic crisis brought the end of the shogunate.


During the early 19th century, the Tokugawa shoguns tried to keep Japan sealed off from the Western world.

However, the United States demanded the opening of Japan and forced the 2 1854 Kanagawa Treaty, which ensured the Americans the use of two ports for trade.

3 European states then made similar treaties, and in 1860 Japanese envoys traveled to Europe to initiate trade with the West.

1 The Great Wave, colored wood engraving
Hokusai, 1830

see also:

Hokusai's "Views of Mt. Fuji" and "Panoramic View of Sumidagawa River"

2 Commercial treaty between the
United States and Japan, March 31, 1854

3 European and American ships at Yokohama

Many of the treaties made were disadvantageous to the Japanese, often guaranteeing the foreigners significant privileges.

This opening of the country had domestic consequences. The foreigners were considered enemy intruders by the Japanese people.

When several nationalistic-minded 4 samurai attacked foreign merchants, European warships shelled Kagoshima in 1863 and Shimonoseki in 1864.

4 Samurai in armor

An influential group that demanded political reorganization and the restoration to the emperor (tenno) formed in Japan. The Japanese modernizers, as well as the armed foreign powers, highlighted the Tokugawa shogunate's shortcomings. The shoguns recognized that Japan had to adapt its policies to the new conditions.

They were anticipated by the military leaders of the Satsuma, Choshu, and Tosa provinces, who seized the emperor's palace in 5 Kyoto on January 3,1868.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu then restored to the tenno the power of government that had been in the hands of the shoguns for over 250 years. Edo was declared the capital in 1868 and renamed Tokyo, and Tenno Mutsuhito (Meiji) moved there in 1869.

5 The emperor's palace in Kyoto, ca. 1900




Pictures of the Floating World

Originating in the 17th century, in the form of hand-colored woodblock prints with subjects taken from Bohemian society, the art of the Ukiyo-e school showed actors and demimondaines.

Later, nature and city scenes featured. In the 19th century,
Hiroshige and Hokusai were the outstanding artists of Ukiyo-e, which declined in the Meiji period.

Hiroshige's "Tokaido"

View of Mount Fuji from Harajuku, part of the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō series by Hiroshige, published 1850


"Views of Mt. Fuji
" and "Panoramic View of Sumidagawa River"

Mt. Fuji from the Foot by
"Views of Mt. Fuji
" and "Panoramic View of Sumidagawa River"




Modernization and Territorial Gains

The reforms of the Meiji Restoration brought Japan into the Modern Era and made it the leading political and military power in East Asia.


The Boshin War, a short civil war against the last followers of the Tokugawa, led directly to the Meiji Restoration.

6 Tenno Mutsuhito, named Meiji ("the Enlightened"), had set as his goal Japan's modernization through comprehensive reforms.

6 Emperor Mutsuhito ("the Enlightened") with his family

This was accomplished above all with the aid of his powerful ministers Kido Takayoshi, Saigo Takamori, and Okubo Toshimichi. With one decree in 1871, they abolished the traditional feudal structure and installed governors to replace the previous system of local self-government.

European military advisors and engineers restructured the army, industry, and 8 transport.

8 Railway station between Ueno and Nakasendo

Laws and educational institutes were renewed in the Western mold. The rapid pace of these changes, however, also incited resistance. When in 1877 the warrior class of the samurai was disbanded, War Minister Yamagata Aritomo—who, following the Prussian example, had introduced compulsory military service—was forced to put down the Satsuma Uprising.

The Prussia state served as the model when drafting the new constitution of 1889 that formally made Japan a constitutional monarchy. A parliament with an upper and lower house was created as of 1890, although the tenno was still able to intervene in politics through decrees or by dissolving the lower house. The military also had a right of veto in the appointments of minister posts.

Industrialization demanded an expansion of the country's territories primarily to tap raw materials and markets abroad. In the 1870s, Japan came to an agreement with Russia about the Kurilc Islands north of Japan and occupied the Chinese Ryukyu Islands in the south. The Japanese used a revolt in Korea to seize additional Chinese territories.

They won the 7 Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, and in the Treaty of Shimonoseki took Taiwan and the Pescadores.

7 Japanese attack upon the Chinese defenders

Japan was also victorious in the 9 Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which was fought over Manchuria and Korea; in a treaty negotiated at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1905, Japan gained the southern half of Sakhalin Island and the lease of the Liaodong Peninsula, among other things. Japan annexed Korea in 1910.

10 Tenno Mutsuhito died in 1912 in Tokyo.

During his reign, Japan had become the most progressively industrialized country in Asia and a major political and military power.

9 Official declaration of war by Japan on
Russia from February 10, 1904

10 The death of Tenno Mutsuhito,
color print, 1912



Saigo Takamori

General Saigo Takamori was a commander of the troops in the Boshin War and led over 50,000 samurai. Along with Kido Takayoshi and Okubo Toshimichi, he was one of the "Three Heroes" of the Meiji government.

 He soon withdrew from public life and founded a school for samurai who had resigned their offices. Saigo led the 1877 uprising in Satsuma of samurai who felt dishonored by their loss of privileges. Seriously injured in battle, he asked his comrades to behead him to avoid capture and further dishonor.

Saigo Takamori



see collections:


Japanese Ukiyo-e

Japanese Prints


"Views of Mt. Fuji
" and "Panoramic View of Sumidagawa River"

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
"Tsuki hyakushi" - 100 Aspects of the Moon

Sesshu's Long Scrolll



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