Portraits: “Facing West”
Commodore and Crew

Although commercial artists rowed out in small boats to draw pictures of Perry’s fleet on the occasion of the first visit in July 1853, few had the opportunity to behold the commodore in person.

This was due, in no little part, to Perry’s decision to enhance his authority by making himself as inaccessible as possible. Indeed, he remained so secluded prior to the formal presentation of the president’s letter that some Japanese, it is said, took to calling his cabin on the flagship “The Abode of the High and Mighty Mysteriousness.”

The jowly, clean-shaven Perry captured in Mathew Brady’s famous photograph (left) is mirrored in the following woodblock prints from the time of his visit.
spaceWesterners were sometimes referred to as “blue-eyed barbarians”... ...but, amusingly, it is the whites of the Commodore’s eyes that are blue. These portraits circulated with variations in detail and coloring. spacePerry even became a “Tengu,”a mythical long-nosed goblin... space...and a demonic figure evocative of the “hairy barbarian” stereotype.
The artwork in the Narrative begins with impressions of ports of call en route to Japan...
06_066a_detail_eyes_4375175.jpgWe can offer both a simple and a more subtle explanation for the startling blue eyeballs in some of the Perry prints. In feudal Japan, Westerners were sometimes referred to as “blue-eyed barbarians,” and it is possible that some artists were a bit confused about where such blueness resided. It was also the case, however, that in Japanese woodblock prints ferocious and threatening figures such as monsters and renegades were stigmatized by the same strange blue eyeball. Whatever the explanation, popular renderings of Perry and his fellow Americans drew on conventions entrenched in Japanese culture.
One alarming close-up of Perry shows that appearances can be deceiving. This ferocious image is accompanied by a poem, which the commodore was imagined to have composed on board his flagship.

Distant moon that appears over the Sea of Musashi, your beams also shine on California.

Apparently, even barbarians might have Japanese-style poetic souls.
Sketchbooks by Japanese artists reveal a thoughtful curiosity about the Americans.
This dramatic painting introduces a lively cast of characters. Colorful and idiosyncratic, they are a motley crew indeed.
Second-in Command Henry Adams’ 15-year-old son, who also accompanied the mission, was lavishly praised as delicate, aesthetic, muscular, martial, and a model of filial piety.
Navigator Infantryman Infantry
Crewman who
surveys the depths
Interpreter Commodore Perry
Perry’s young son Oliver served as his  personal secretary on the mission and appeared in a number of Japanese images.
Sailor from a “nation
of black people”
Musician Marine
The most “realistic” run of portraits of the Americans dates from March 8, 1854, when Perry landed in Yokohama to initiate his second visit. Hibata Osuke, a well-known actor of Noh drama, managed to situate himself in the midst of that day’s activities and record a variety of subjects, including Perry and key figures who accompanied him.
Captain Joel Abbott   Perry’s son Oliver   Anton Portman, interpreter   S. Wells Williams, interpreter   Commander Henry Adams   Commodore Perry
Colored copies of Hibata’s sketches—like these two sets of portraits—were made by anonymous artists who added their unique touch.

Click to view this set of portraits in the Encounters section
Here Oliver sports a trim mustache, but lacks the goatee which the artist imagined his father to have.
In this rendering, Oliver has been transformed into a delicate and romantic Japanese youth.
bss_adams_son_4376362.jpgAdams’ son, from the “Black Ship Scroll.”

Text: “This youth is extremely beautiful.  His complexion is white, around his eyes is pink, his mouth  is small, and his lips are red.  His body, hands, and feet are slightly plump, and his features are rather feminine.  He is intelligent by nature, dutiful to his parents, and has a taste for the martial arts.  He likes scholarship, composes and recites poems and songs, and reads books three lines at a glance.  His power exceeds three men, and his shooting ability is exceptional...”
Portrait of Perry, photograph by Mathew B. Brady, ca. 1856, Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division.
Portrait of Perry, a North American, ca. 1854, woodblock print, © Nagasaki Prefecture.
A Portrait of Perry, a North American, woodblock print, ca. 1854, courtesy Peabody Essex Museum.
Images courtesy of Ryosenji Treasure Museum: A North American (Portrait of Perry), ca. 1854. Portrait of Matthew Perry, painting, ca. 1854. Portraits of Perry and Adams (detail), painting, 19th c.
Black Ship Scroll, Perry detail © Honolulu Academy of Art. Back Ship and the Crew, painting, ca. 1854.
Sketchbook for the Pictorial Description of Perry’s Visit, ca. 1853, © Tokyo University
Historiographical Institute.
Two colored renderings based on Hibata Osuke’s 1854 sketches of Perry and five
others: Chrysler Museum of Art (above), and Shiryo Hensanjo, University of Tokyo (above right)
Perry and son, woodblock print, 1854, Ryosenji Treasure Museum
Perry’s son Oliver, painting, ca. 1854, Ryosenji Treasure Museum
Adams’ son, detail from the 1854 “Black Ship Scroll,” Honolulu Academy of Art

On viewing images from the historical record: click here.

Black Ships & Samurai © 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A project of professors John W. Dower & Shigeru Miyagawa
Design and production by Ellen Sebring, Scott Shunk, and Andrew Burstein
Black Ships & Samurai II Encounters: Facing East Encounters: Facing West Black Ships: Facing East Black Ships: Facing West Portraits: Facing East Portraits: Facing West Gravestone Courtesan The Black Ship Scroll