Special exhibition: Japan in the Danish Royal House

Special exhibition on the piano nobile in Christian VIII’s Palace at Amalienborg from 17 June to 3 September 2017

The Museum is celebrating the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Denmark with a special exhibition, which demonstrates the Royal Family’s great interest in Japan throughout the centuries. The fascination and the connections are reflected in, among other things, choice works of art and craft from the distant realm, and visitors to the museum will be able to see both the Royal Family’s private effects and objects from public collections.

Today the Japanese touch has become a natural part of everyday life in the west, with blossoming cherry trees, porcelain, and silks being common property, but just 150 years ago these prestigious and highly coveted items only reached the homes of the most privileged, who at the same time found them exotic and difficult to understand.

As early as the 17th century Denmark’s great Renaissance king Christian IV attempted to gain direct contact with Japan through his newly founded Danish East India Company. The attempt failed, as the shogun isolated the country from the surrounding world, and there were only a few Chinese and Dutch merchants who had connections with the country. Nevertheless, even at that time fine Japanese objects reached the Royal Family, and in the exhibition visitors can for example see an impressive 17th century porcelain vase and a unique 18th century lacquer cabinet.

Also seldom seen are the 19th century folding screens decorated with nature motifs finished with gold and silk threads. Prior to Japan opening up to the rest of the world in the middle of the 19th century, such exquisite screens were reserved for the Imperial Family, the shogunate, and a few other members of Japan’s elite. Thereafter they were used as costly official gifts given, for example, to European monarchs, as they were representative of fine handiwork and traditional symbolic motifs in Japanese visual art. Only a small number of these very fragile artworks have survived until the present day.

As Japan opened up to the surrounding world, a larger wave of Japanese art and craft began to flow into the western market. This led to Japanism, which became a new and marked style in art and design towards the end of the 19th century. In Denmark, too, many were inspired by the new trend, among them Princess Marie d’Orléans (1865-1909), who was married to Prince Valdemar and was a talented amateur artist. The influence of Japanism is obvious in a number of her pictures, and at the same time she was an active collector of East Asian objects. In the exhibition the connection with Japan is given an extra little twist with examples from the Princess’s collection of Japanese figures — and with a little Japan-inspired painting from her hand.

In 1867 diplomatic relations were successfully established between the two countries, and the exhibition gives an impression of the close relations which have since formed between the Royal Family and the Imperial Family, in the form of state visits and the exchange of gifts. HM Emperor Akihito came to Denmark for the first time in 1953, and HM Queen Margarethe went to Japan for the first time in 1963. Most recently TRH Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary visited Japan in 2015 in connection with a promotion of Greenland. The respective state visits and other relations during the last 150 years, which have strengthened ties between the two countries, are also shown in the exhibition through objects stemming from up to the present day. Most of them refined and distinguished, others quirky and surprising.

HRH Crown Prince Naruhito and HRH Crown Prince Frederik are the patrons of the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The celebration will take place throughout 2017 with activities and events in both Denmark and Japan. The Danish-Japanese cultural focus has been arranged in close collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and the Danish Embassy in Tokyo, as well as the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The respective cultural activities have been initiated by the Danish Arts Foundation, Danish arts and culture institutions, and individual artists. The effort is anchored in The International Culture Panel, a cross-ministerial organ consisting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of Business and Growth.

The exhibition and the accompanying book have been made possible through the support of the Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation and Toyota-Fonden.


Read more about one of the Japanese folding screens from the exhibition here

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