Passing the Rubicon. Lieut. S. Bent in the 'Mississippi's' First Cutter forcing his way through a fleet of Japanese boats while surveying the Bay of Yedo, Japan, July 11th, 1853.
23.5 x 33 in (59.69 x 83.82 cm)
A rare and important 1855 Eliphalet Brown and Wilhelm Heine hand-tinted elephant-folio lithograph view of one of the most significant and impactful moment in history - the meeting of East and West, when an American Naval Squadron under Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into Edo Harbor and forced Tokugawa Japan to accept foreign embassies and trade, ending 214 years of self-imposed Sakoku (鎖国, 'Closed-Country') isolation. Part of a rare and significant elephant folio set representing a 'holy grail' item for Perry collectors.
Interpreting the ViewThe view illustrates Edo Harbor near Point Rubicon (hence the title) and Cape Kamisaki (Cape Kannon, on Miura Peninsula, in Yokosuka, Kanagawa) defensive positions guarding the entrance to Edo Harbor / Tokyo Bay. In the foreground we are confronted with Lieut. Silas Bent III (1820 - 1887), forcing his survey cutter into the harbor - part of Perry's intimidation campaign (see below). Bent is being confronted by multiple Japanese vessels, festooned with rowing marines and naginata-bearing samurai, as well as several Tokugawa officials in black robes. Other Japanese Chokkibune boats fill the bay behind Bent, all fully loaded with samurai warriors. To the left of Bent, a Higaki kaisen (菱垣廻船) cargo ship watches the interaction. Further in the distance, one of Perry's ships, the paddle-frigate U.S.S. Mississippi observes. The rocky Miura Peninsula appears the behind the action. Mount Fuji rises dramatically in the background - an element added in watercolor with gouache highlighting the sunlight reflecting off the snow-capped volcano. Fuji is not present on all known examples, as it is not part of the original lithograph and was added by the original watercolorists, so in satiations where the print was washed or restored, this desirable feature is lost.
The Perry Expedition (1852 - 1854)Commodore Mathew Perry arrived in Japan on July 8, 1853 (Kaei 6). He had a commission from American President Millard Fillmore (1800 - 1874) to force the opening of isolationist Tokugawa Japan's seaports to American trade and diplomacy. To the Japanese, Perry's arrival in his 'Black Ships' was equivalent to space aliens arriving in Washington D.C. and demanding to trade. For the previous 214 years, Japan operated under a Sakoku (鎖国, 'Closed-Country) policy. The United States, at the time rapidly growing in power, was increasingly active in Japanese waters and in the China trade. Between 1790 and 1853, at least twenty-seven U.S. ships (including three warships) visited Japan, only to be turned away. Frustrated, Fillmore ordered Perry to push into the harbor, using gunboat diplomacy if necessary, to force open trade. When Perry's squadron arrived in Edo Bay on July 8, 1853, he was met with an armada of Japanese guard boats - as seen here. To show he meant business, Perry fired blanks from all of his 73 cannon and began a campaign of intimidation, flying the white flag, but threatening violence. The Japanese were understandably concerned about the strange ships, generically referred to as 'black ships' due to the pitch used to waterproof the hulls. Ultimately, the Tokugawa accepted Fillmore's letter of demands. In the meantime, Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyoshi (徳川 家慶; 1793 - July 27, 1853) died and was succeeded by his sickly young son, Tokugawa Iesada (徳川 家定; 1824 - 1858), leaving effective administration in the hands of Abe Masahiro (阿部 正弘; 1819 - 1857) and a Council of Elders (Rōjū; 老中). Abe felt that it was currently impossible for Japan to resist the American demands by military force and, by the time Perry returned in 1854, decided to accept virtually all the demands in Fillmore's letter. After much wrangling, the tiny fishing village of Yokohama was chosen to become a foreign concession and American fueling station.
The Rubicon The title 'Passing the Rubicon' references an old military term suggesting a 'point of no return' dating to the battles of Julius Caesar during the 49 BC Roman Civil War. For Caesar, the Rubicon was a small but strategically significant river north of San Marino, the crossing of which meant he needed to 'conquer or perish'. With armies of Japanese marines glaring at him, Perry must have felt much the same, naming this spot Point Rubicon, because he knew that once through the heavily fortified position, he would not be able to leave without Japanese concession.
Brown's Elephant Folio ViewsThis huge and stunning view was published as part of an elephant-folio collection of six lithographs illustrating the Perry Expedition. The views were all based on photos by expedition photographer Eliphalet Brown Jr. which had been turned into paintings by expedition artist Wilhelm Heine. This view is the second of that series. Most of the views were published by the flamboyant Napoleon Sarony (Sarony and Company) of New York, but others were published by 'Boell and Michelin' (no. 1) and 'Boell and Lewis' (no 6). As a whole the collection represents the earliest and most important first-hand visual record of the Perry Expedition. It is known that 100 sets were given to Perry, who passed them out to colleagues, friends, and officials. If additional examples were made for commercial distribution, it is unknown. The only full set of these lithographs known to have come to market were consigned in January of 2008 to Christies New York by the descendants of Perry, where despite being in rough condition, they sold for 49,000 USD, nearly tripling the estimate (sale 1959).
Publication History and CensusThis view, Passing the Rubicon, was engraved by the Sarony firm in 1855, based upon original artwork by Wilhelm Heine, in turn based upon photography by Eliphalet Brown Jr, the later two of whom were present at the moment depicted. The view is rare. While examples are held in institutional collections, it is impossible to accurately assess the authenticity of those items, as the importance of this view has let it to be widely digitized and distributed in both digital and photographic reproductions in library circles from existing examples at the Library of Congress. In the private market, in addition to Christies sale mentioned above, an example of this specific view sold at Swann Galleries in 2008 for 4500 USD.
Eliphalet M. Brown Jr. (1816 - January 24, 1886) was an American daguerreotypist, lithographer, and photographer. He was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts. By 1837, he was working as an artist and lithographer in New York. His name appears on the records of Currier and Ives, among other firms. In 1841 he exhibited at the National Academy of Design, New York. Brown arranged for his younger brother, James Sydney Brown to find a position in the innovative new field of daguerreotype photography. He apprenticed in a gallery owned by Matthew Brady. Both brothers were so impressed with photography that, in 1846, they jointly started a studio, The American Gallery. According to one reference, Eliphalet was an expert lithographer, while James focused on photography. Between 1848 and 1851, Eliphalet left the partnership with his brother and worked with Charles Severyn and, then Currier and Ives. Around this time, he was famously selected to accompany the 1852 - 1854 diplomatic mission to Japan led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry - it is a curiosity of history that Eliphalet, the lithographer, not his brother James, the photographer, was chosen by Perry (who knew them both) as the official expedition photographer. Along the way he took over 400 historical photographs recording the first significant contact between Americans and Tokugawa Japanese. Unfortunately, 6 of these images were lost to an April 11, 1856 fire at a Peter S. Duval Lithography Company in Philadelphia, but contrary to some irresponsible scholarship, most survived. Despite this fact, few are known in institutional and private collections, the remainder presumably consigned to a government archive and simply lost. Others were copied by the artist Wilhelm Heine, who painted them and in partnership with Brown, transferred them to lithographic prints. When Brown returned from Japan, he gave up photography for the Navy Life. He served as a Master and Ensign during the American Civil War. Later he was assigned to the Mediterranean. Brown retired from naval life in 1875, at which time he married and lived quietly until his death in 1886. Learn More...
Peter Bernard Wilhelm Heine (January 30, 1827 - October 5, 1885) was a German-American artist, traveler, writier, and military officer. Heine was born in Dresden, the son of a comedic actor at the Dresden Court Theater with family connection to Richard Wagner. He studied art at the Dresden Royal Academy of Art, and later apprenticed under the Dresden historical painter Julius Hübner (1806 - 1882). He studied for an additional three years in Paris before returning to Dresden. There he participated in the May Uprising in Dresden, part of the German Revolutions of 1848-49, the suppression of which forced to him into exile - apparently with the help of Alexander von Humnboldt (1769 -1859). Like many 'Forty-Eighters,' Heine settled in New York, setting up an art studio at 515 Broadway. He quickly gained a reputation as a fine artist and befriended the archeologist and diplomat, Ephraim George Squier (1821 - 1888), who hired him as staff artist for his expedition to Central America. The work earned him renown in Washington, where he was assigned to accompany Commodore Matthew Perry (1894 - 1858) on his expedition to Japan (1852 - 1853), where he served as Acting Master's Mate on the flagship USS Mississippi under Sydney Smith Lee (1802 -1869). The sketches he produced of the places he visited and the people he encountered there, together with the daguerreotypes taken by his colleague Eliphalet Brown Jr., formed the basis of an official iconography of the American expedition to Japan which remains an important record of the country as it was before the foreigners arrived in force. Upon his return to New York in 1855 he published several books: a collection of prints entitled Graphic Scenes of the Japan Expedition; 400 sketches which were included in Perry's official report; and his memoirs, Reiss um die Welt nach Japan (Leipzig, 1856). The memoirs were very successful, and were immediately translated into both French and Dutch. Heine returned to Japan in 1860 on the Prussian financed Eulenburg Expedition (1859 - 1862) under Friedrich Albrecht zu Eulenburg (1815 - 1881). With the outbreak of the American Civil War (1861 - 1865), Heine returned to the United States where he volunteered for the Union Army, joining the 1st Maryland Infantry. Shortly thereafter he was commissioned as a Captain of the Topographical Engineers. He was captured during the Peninsular Campaign and served time in the infamous Libby Prison in Confederate Richmond. He was discharged from military service due to injuries, but in 1863 rejoined the army as Colonel of the German-American 103rd New York Infantry. In 1865 he was made a Brevet Brigadier General but was accused of disobedience and left the army. In the next year he became a clerk to the Paris and Liverpool consulates. After the establishment of the Hohenzollern Empire in Germany in 1871, he returned to Dresden where he wrote his last book about Japan, Japan, Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Landes und seiner Bewohner (Berlin, 1873 - 1880). He died in Dresden in 1885. Learn More...
Napoleon Sarony (March 9, 1821 - November 9, 1896) was a dashingly handsome Canadian-American lithographer and publisher active in New York in the mid to late 19th century. Sarony was born in Quebec and emigrated to New York City in 1835. He apprenticed under Henry Robinson (fl. 1830/33 - 1850) before working as a lithograph artist for Nathaniel Currier (1813 - 1888). In 1846, he partnered with Currier's apprentice lithographer Henry B. Major to establish the firm of 'Sarony and Major.' From offices at 117 Futon Street, they published under this imprint until roughly 1853, when Sarony split off on his own under the imprint 'Sarony and Co.', still at 117 Fulton. At the time 'and Co.' probably meant Joseph Fairchild Knapp (1832 - 1891), Sarony's apprentice, and Richard C. Major, possibly Henry Major's son. In 1857, a new imprint was established as 'Sarony, Major and Knapp'. According to an advertisement in the New York Times (Feb 16, 1864), Sarony had invested in the business at founding, but was not an active partner, possibly because he was traveling in Europe. It is unclear why Sarony's name was maintained, possibly to capitalize on his fame, as a honorific, or possibly because he owned a major stake. They published under this imprint until 1863, becoming a major concern at 449 Broadway. Sarony's name was formally removed from the partnership in 1863. At the time he was traveling in Europe, mastering the most advanced color lithography and photographic techniques. He is known to have worked in France, Germany, and England. He returned to New York in the 1860s, establishing a photography company at 37 Union Square that became famous for its portraits of late-19th-century American theater icons. In 1891, Sarony, hoping to capitalize on Sarah Bernhardt's fame as 'Cleopatra', paid the stage actress 1,500 USD to sit for a photo session, the modern-day equivalent of 20,000 USD - suggesting a highly prosperous business. His son, Otto Sarony (1850–1903), continued the family business as a theater and film star photographer. As an aside, Sarony's second wife, Louie Sarony, was a known eccentric who would reportedly dress in elaborate rented costumes to walk around Washington Square each afternoon. Learn More...
Very good. Exhibits light overall foxing. While the visual content of the view is intact, this view originally had additional copyright text below the last line presented here. We can only assume the present example was trimmed by a framer. Fortunately, the loss is not significant to the image, which retains impressive wide margins