Sebastian Dobson and Sven Saaler, eds., Under Eagle Eyes: Lithographs, Drawings & Photographs from the Prussian Expedition to Japan, 1860–61. (München: IUDICIUM Verlag, 2011). 392 pages ISBN 983862051373
Skip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to use this work in a way not covered by the license. :
For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy.
The topic of this lavishly illustrated book about the first German expedition to Japan could hardly be more exciting. Written in German, English, and Japanese, it promises an explorer story similar to those about the great modern age of discovery. Although the Eulenburg Expedition of 1860–1861 cannot claim to be first in the mission to open up Japan to the West, it shares the risky goal of all explorers, even if it did not enter uncharted waters, fill in white spots on maps, or hoist flags at the poles or on the highest peaks. That goal is to discover, trade, and culturally engage with different peoples. No one summed up these goals—“explore, collect, measure, connect” (84)—better than Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), the influential German explorer who inspired the Eulenburg Expedition.
Under Eagle Eyes celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Eulenburg Expedition’s main achievement, a treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation between Japan and the member states of the German Customs Union (Zollverein, including Prussia), signed on 24 January 1861 in Edo [today’s Tōkyō]. Sponsored and published by the OAG Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur-und Völkerkunde Ostasiens (Tōkyō) in the IUDICIUM Verlag, Under Eagle Eyes includes a Foreword by Nakai Akio (Sophia University, Tōkyō), an Introduction by the editors, and six essays: one each by Sven Saaler (Sophia University) and Peter Pantzer (Universität Bonn), one by Veit Hammer (Universität Halle-Wittenberg) and Timon Screech (SOAS, University of London), and three by Sebastian Dobson, an independent scholar of photography (Antwerp). There are also two appendices: Dobson’s interpretive inventory of the expedition’s gifts to the shōgun; the other a meticulously compiled list of illustrations. The 16-page bibliography deserves special mention for its exhaustive list of published and unpublished primary and secondary sources, including information about online access (where available). Neither the compiler(s) of this valuable bibliography nor the translators of the various contributions are credited, although the translators are at least mentioned by name (33).
Like most collaborative efforts, Under Eagle Eyes has overlaps and lacunae. Yet each essay makes a special contribution. In his “Foreword,” Nakai reminds the reader that the Japanese seclusion policy (sakoku), begun in 1639, came to an end when Commodore Perry’s “Black Ships” arrived in 1853 and the Kanagawa Treaty was signed the following year. When European delegations followed to demand similar trade treaties, the Japanese government, already split between the imperial court (and its allies) and the shōgunate over the unequal treaties signed with the Americans, became increasingly anxious about any further demands. When three out of four Prussian ships arrived in the fall of 1860 (the Frauenlob sank during a typhoon while within sight of Edo Bay, with all on board), Friedrich Albrecht Graf zu Eulenburg immediately began to negotiate a treaty with the shōgun’s councilor (rōjū) Andō Nobumasa. Apparently having been criticized by Andō for allowing the possibility of other German states to follow Prussia under the terms of the proposed treaty, the Councilor of Foreign Affairs Hori Toshihiro committed suicide (seppuku, as Pantzer asserts; see 62) just prior to the signing of the treaty on 24 January 1861. The human cost of the Eulenburg Expedition was already apparent on both sides.
The editors of this book stress in their “Introduction” that this volume emphasizes the valuable “iconography” (23) of visual materials produced by the expedition. The all-male team of diplomats included a pair of artists (Albert Berg and Wilhelm Heine) and an official photographer, Carl Bismarck, who was assisted, or rather surpassed, by two other photographers: August Sachtler and the American John Wilson (the latter recruited on site). During their stay in Japan, the Prussians were “immortalized” (26) by their hosts in Yokohama-e, a distinct genre of woodblock prints depicting foreigners in Japan.
Two essays by Saaler and Pantzer provide an overall context for the expedition. Saaler points to Engelbert Kaempfer’s and Philipp Franz von Siebold’s private pre-Eulenburg expeditions and to the cultural exchange of knowledge about medicine and law in the wake of the Eulenburg Expedition. Pantzer blends, in somewhat choppy style, a review of German-Japanese relations with an account of the human losses associated with the Eulenburg Expedition.
Prussia and Japan cultivated a taste for each other’s art. Hammer and Screech extol the passionate interest in East Asian art of the Prussian Great Elector, Frederick William I (1688–1740), Frederick the Great (1712–1786), and Prince Henry of Prussia (1726–1802). As the Prussian libraries’ holdings grew to enable the scientific study of these exotic art objects, the shōgun Yoshimune commissioned five European paintings in 1722, produced by the Prussian court painter Willem van Royen, a Dutchman. Unfortunately, such early- to mid-Edo period mutual interest waned until the Eulenburg Expedition revived it.
The first of Dobson’s three fascinating solo contributions, “Humboldt in Japan,” details the many ways in which the great explorer influenced the expedition. Dobson’s essay begins with Humboldt’s death on 6 May 1859, and with Humboldt’s disciple Wilhelm Heine’s lecture on “China and Japan, Eastern Asia and World Trade,” delivered at the Geographical Society of Berlin to a circle of mourning fellow scientists. It was appropriate for Heine to be the speaker because Humboldt had done much to promote Heine’s career and had been eager to endorse him and others to explore East Asia. Heine had, in fact, been summoned to his revered ailing mentor’s side all the way from the United States, but he arrived just a heartbeat too late.
The occasion for Heine’s next lecture to the Geographical Society was the Prussian cabinet’s approval on 9 August 1859 of just the sort of expedition to East Asia that Humboldt had advocated. To mark the occasion, Heine received from Karl Richard Lepsius the chronomoter that he had used on his expedition to Egypt in 1842–46 and had passed on to Heinrich Barth for his expedition to Africa in 1850–55. The symbolic chronometer became a virtual relay baton passed among the closest Humboldt disciples. Other disciples recruited for the Eulenburg Expedition included the landscape painter Albert Berg, the diplomats Theodor von Bunsen and Carl Pieschel, the botanist Max Wichura, the zoologist Eduard von Martens, and the geologist Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen. (Although peeved to have missed Rutherford Alcock’s climb of Mount Fuji, the most interesting of all sites for a geologist, von Richthofen was thrilled to pursue a variety of scientific interests about a country and a people “without fear of being branded a dilettante” .)
Dobson laments the expedition’s inability to sort out and present its rich findings in a timely manner because of its members’ continuing travels (Heine until 1871 and Richthofen until 1872), their sudden demise (Schottmüller in 1864 and Wichura in 1866), or the Prussian government’s delayed approval of research on the botanical, zoological, and geological haul. Quite in the spirit of Humboldt were the “connections” made between Japanese diplomats and the Prussian delegation. When Max von Brandt was asked by the Japanese whether he was related to Heinrich von Brandt, the author of a military textbook, he revealed that he was the general’s son and was promptly presented with an 1833 Japanese translation of his father’s work. The Japanese representatives had not heard of Humboldt, whose name they were quick to note, unaware that the shōgunate was already busy having his works translated.
Japanese scholars were, in fact, eager to learn as much as possible from the Eulenburg Expedition. The scholar Ichikawa Kanenori visited the Prussian delegation’s Akabane guest house nine times to study the electro-magnetic telegraph manufactured by Siemens and Halske. Richthofen was impressed by Ichikawa’s ability to grasp the workings of the telegraph and the photographer’s darkroom. Ichikawa was also eager to master Prussian and cooperated with Richthofen and Bunsen in the compilation of a German dictionary and grammar.
Dobson introduces his second essay on “Split Visions: Wilhelm Heine and Albert Berg in Japan” with a map of Edo (modern Tōkyō) and environs relevant to the activities of the Eulenburg Expedition. He paints colorful verbal portraits of the two painters, who were intense rivals. Berg was clearly the “insider” (129). He was treated with great deference at Akabane. By contrast the “outsider” Heine was a born rebel with a shrewd creative mind, always ready to reinvent himself, as he did after his participation in the failed Dresden revolt of 1849. (He then fled to the United States, participated in an expedition to Nicaragua in 1851, and served in 1852 as Commodore Perry’s official artist.) In Shimoda, Heine is seen as personifying Humboldt’s ideals by “sketching, drawing, painting, gunning [i.e. shooting], skinning, pressing and preserving plants” (130). Heine’s drawings and watercolors became the basis for the lithographs of Eliphalet Brown, whose daguerreotypes inspired Heine’s interest in photography. Humboldt had praised Heine as an artist and ethnographer in his prefaces to Heine’s Reise um die Erde nach Japan and Graphic Scenes in the Japan Expedition, both published in 1856. With these credentials, Heine was sure to be the most wanted man for the Eulenburg Expedition, but Berg also had his patrons. Finally, the two were condemned to endure each other’s presence at Akabane.
In 1849, Berg followed in Humboldt’s footsteps by exploring the tropics in South America. Humboldt praised his landscape sketches that were worked into lithographs for his Physiognomy of the Tropical Vegetation of South America (1854) and promoted Berg’s career by recommending him for an 1853–1854 tour of Rhodes and Southern Anatolia. Dobson provides many details of Berg’s career and includes a somewhat digressive rumor about Berg and his patron, the Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, “sharing the same father” (139).
According to Dobson, Heine refused to be pigeonholed as a painter rather than an artist, which was the superior label applied by Richthofen and others to his rival Berg. Heine turned to photography. He wanted to exploit the new medium to record with the most accuracy what he saw in Japan and its people. Reconciling himself to not having enough time to indulge in painting, he wrote, ”... expeditions such as this present one, the artist must subordinate himself to the lithographer” (141). In July 1861, Heine left the expedition, fed up with the “favoritism” (146) shown to Berg. Not only was Eulenburg glad to be rid of Heine as a source of discord, but the official photographer, Carl Bismarck, and his assistant, Hermann Rose, celebrated the departure of this man who had so often criticized them. Heine sailed home eastward, but he was caught in the American Civil War. He left the Prussian service to enlist for service in the Union Army. His vagaries are a story all by itself: he was wounded in battle, mistakenly imprisoned first by the Confederate enemy and then by his own side, and finally stood guard at Abraham Lincoln’s coffin. Disappointed by the increasing corruption of America’s “Gilded Age,” Heine returned to the newly proclaimed German Empire in 1871. He was shocked to find his old friend Richard Wagner now calling him a “blown-up, buccaneering bag of nothingness” (150). And of course, the publication of the Eulenburg Expedition papers did not wait for his contribution; after all, Berg was in charge of the publication of the papers.
Berg’s major project was to publish his 60 Ansichten (views)—20 of the 60 in color and 30 of the 60 of Japan—in the form of large folio prints. They were not printed by the lithographic method invented by Alois Sennefelder in 1798 but in the new photolithographic technique independently developed in the years 1857–1859 by three inventors, the most important of whom, for Berg, was the Australian John Walter Osborne. Photolithography, a complex process combining photography and lithography, is described in detail (153–154). Berg cooperated with Osborne and the Berlin printer Wilhelm Korn in the publication of the first installment of Ansichten aus Japan, China und Siam (June 1864). After Osborne left to introduce his new technique in London and the United States, Berg and Korn completed the luxurious photolithographic series in 1873. Although Dobson asserts that these Ansichten feature landscape and vegetation rather than people and architecture (159), I find the architecture embedded in the landscapes to be a strikingly strong point in the representative samples given in matching pairs of drawing and photolithograph (158, 160–163; 165; 167–169). Despite his involvement in photolithography, Berg, unlike Heine, was critical of the new medium of photography. He felt that photography, unlike painting, could not distinguish between important and unimportant pictorial elements.
Heine raised sufficient funds to counter Berg’s luxurious production by publishing his own more modest “monochrome photographic reproduction of the artwork” (171) in a five-part folio edition of Japan: Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Landes und seiner Bewohner, completed in 1880. His emphasis was on the Japanese people. Heine used not only his own artwork but that of four other artists from his student days. His photographs and those of Wilson were the basis for some of the artwork. In 1876, Heine published his panoramic view of Edo that he had originally put together in 1860 with photographers Wilson and Sachtler. Its documentary value became evident to Heine when Tōkyō burned in 1876. Dobson criticizes Heine for “enlivening ... the view” at the expense of “its accuracy” (178). He further faults Heine for incorporating Japanese artists’ festival scenes of disparate seasons in this altogether confusing last work that may well have foreshadowed an increasingly confused mind. In 1877 Heine was admitted to a German mental institution, from which he soon moved to a Veterans’ Hospital in his adopted country. He recovered enough to return to Dresden, where he died in 1885.
Berg’s final years were less tragic. He moved to Breslau in 1878 to become director of the “newly-founded Silesian Museum of the Pictorial Arts” (183). He died suddenly, in 1884. Sensitive to the ironies defining the two rivals, Dobson notes that Berg posthumously retained his insider status and Heine his outsider status. Dobson concludes this lengthy chapter with full-page reproductions of the 30 Ansichten aus Japan, each facing a trilingual description (Japanese here replacing the last in the original languages of German, English, and French). Aside from views of Buddhist temples and Shintō shrines, the Tōkaidō and Edo street scenes, harbor, river, and Mount Fuji views, the most frequent single subject is cemeteries (see # 8, 13, 19, 24, 26, 27, 29, 30) impressive in their “incomparable loveliness” (208). Their lush vegetation contrasts with the sophisticated stonework of walls and stairs, with the occasional tombstone dislocated by earthquakes.
Dobson’s third essay is entitled, “Unintended Consequences: Photography and the Prussian East Asian Expedition.” In this piece he seamlessly combines biography, history, and art. He finally introduces Count Eulenburg, who saw the idiosyncratic Heine as a thorn in his side. It was a personal matter. Even before the expedition, Heine was not shy about demanding “a generous compensation package” for himself and his family, made still more “exorbitant” (256) by the request for an assistant photographer. Pointing a finger at Heine’s immodesty, Eulenburg countered with a request of his own for a person familiar to him to join the expedition. That person was Carl Bismarck, born out of wedlock to young Eulenburg and fifteen-year-old Bertha von Bismarck. (Her family raised Carl shielded from the public eye and without the aristocratic “von.”) In 1860, Eulenburg was eager to take his twenty-year-old son on the expedition, using to his advantage Heine’s request for an assistant photographer. Although young Bismarck lacked experience as a photographer, he was favored above other candidates. His appointment meant more rather than less work for Heine. Eulenburg was motivated to raise the budget for photography, resulting in much praise by a journalist from Kanagawa: “a better appointed expedition ... has never visited these islands” (262). Dobson believes this assessment held true for the rest of the nineteenth century.
Although Heine had been to Japan with Perry, Edo was new territory for him. He discovered the virtues of photography as a medium to record quickly and accurately sites unfamiliar to the painter’s eye. By virtue of its speed and accuracy, photography could also become a national security threat. Accordingly, Japanese officials (yakunin) escorted the expedition’s photographers on their excursions. They were helpful as long as the subject of the photograph was not forbidden; when it was, Heine diverted the attention of the yakunin so that Bismarck could complete the task, even if not to Heine’s satisfaction. A clash of personalities emerged when Heine complained about Bismarck’s performance and the complaint was forwarded to Carl’s father. Even before learning of Heine’s complaint, however, Eulenburg recruited the experienced American photographer John Wilson and the technician August Sachtler. The reproductions of albumen print stereographs from wet collodion negatives demonstrate Wilson’s superior talent, as Richthofen immediately recognized. Wilson and Sachtler soon surpassed Bismarck.
Without directly asking for the replacement of Bismarck, Heine hinted to Eulenburg that the climate was hardly conducive to the wet-plate process and that another photographer was needed to help accomplish the photographic mission. Eulenburg forwarded the request but blamed Heine rather than his young assistant for the fact that the 1860 salt prints from wet collodion negatives were less than satisfactory.
The photographic mission was not all work and no play. An excursion to the Umeyashiki teahouse in Ōmori provided lively photographic material for the social encounters between Japanese and Prussians.
Some of Wilson’s albumen stereographs printed from wet collodion negatives were reproduced as engravings in the Illustrirte Zeitung in Leipzig. In its potential for wide dissemination, photography became an important and integral part of the diplomatic mission. For example, Bismarck and Wilson documented the exhumation and reburial of two Russian naval officers assassinated the previous year. Two of their photographs were sent to the Prussian court’s ally in St. Petersburg.
Finally, there are the remarkable photographic individual and group portraits of yakunin and samurai, among them the twelve-year-old Masuda Takashi shown (in VI-31) with his two samurai swords and topknot. He was assigned at the time of the expedition to serve Henry Heusken (assassinated on 15 January 1861). Masuda later became head of the Mitsui conglomerate. At his most effective, Dobson adds fitting biographic bits of information to enhance the historic interest of the photographer’s art. Dobson registers a note of vanity by at least one official when formal photographs were taken on the occasion of the signing of the Prussian-Japanese Treaty on 24 January 1861. That official well understood that such photographs, reproduced as engravings, could become important items of diplomacy in the exchange of gifts.
Many of the splendid studio photographs of yakunin (VII-30-31), samurai (VII-33-35), actors (VII-48), women and children (VII-36-40) are attributed to Sachtler, whose photographic skills in portraiture had increased rapidly. Bismarck remained focused on landscape photography, which culminated in his and Sachtler’s photographs of Nagasaki. Having set up his own photo shop in Yokohama, Wilson created a gigantic 9,000-foot panoramic scroll of paintings, based on his photographic portfolio and produced in collaboration with the Japanese artist Shimooka Renjō, whom Wilson paid in photographic equipment and who would establish “the first commercial Japanese photography studio in Yokohama” (304). Wilson went on to London, where his grand panorama was celebrated in 1862, after which he was not heard from again. Among them all, Sachtler perhaps left the most lasting mark on photography. He returned to Berlin in 1862, but was soon drawn back to Asia. He opened a photographic studio in Singapore in 1863 and died ten years later.
Unfortunately, much of the Eulenburg Expedition’s photographic portfolio was lost. Heine left 800–1000 original plates in the custody of Berg, who made copies, but the original plates vanished. The last mention of the negatives dates from June 1865, when they were in the hands of the Berlin photographer Leopold Ahrendts who had been commissioned to make prints of selected negatives. Berg entrusted Ahrendts with the safekeeping of the entire 24 crates of photographs and photographic equipment. Neither storage nor printmaking from these photographs was lucrative for Ahrendts, who died suddenly of a stroke in 1870. Heine was left to deal with the nightmarish scenario of the disappearance of the photographic portfolio.
Dobson’s Appendix 1 features “The Gifts of the Eulenburg Expedition to the Shogun” in prose and elaborate tables, listing the source and the price of each gift given to the shōgun or to others and received from Japan. Dobson tells a hilarious episode of Eulenburg who, in the early stage of gift exchanges, was stunned when his Japanese hosts not only accepted the Prussian gifts but even the table on which he had placed them. This infuriating episode confirmed him in his tactic of withholding gifts until progress in political negotiations was evident. Some of the gifts, such as the telegraph (339, APP-07) and several lithographs and lithophane views, are reproduced in this appendix. Others, such as “a set of photographic equipment and a lithographic press” (336, APP-06) are shrouded in mystery.
Under Eagle Eyes is a labor of love, reflecting a Humboldtian effort at recreating the rich complexities of the Eulenburg Expedition’s artistic and scientific iconography.
Doris G. Bargen is Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has published A Woman’s Weapon: Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji (1997) and Suicidal Honor: General Nogi and the Writings of Mori Ōgai and Natsume Sōseki (2006). Her research on Nogi and Ōgai called for her own excursions into Japanese-European cross-cultural explorations. Her article on Mori Ōgai’s historical fiction is forthcoming in Monumenta Nipponica (67.1). She has been invited to give a paper in the fall of 2012 at the Humboldt Universität of Berlin on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Ōgai’s birth.