In the mid-1850s, Japan was forced by the Western nations to open its doors to the outside world after more than 200 years of self-imposed isolation. The opening of Japan led to a fascination in the West for all things Japanese, known as Japonisme. During this period of Japan’s history, known as the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japanese prints, ceramics, metalwork, and lacquerware became hugely fashionable in the West.

Also enormously popular at the time, but little known today, were non-costume Japanese textiles that were made specifically for the Western market as art objects or for interior decoration. These exquisite embroideries, dyed silk and velvet panels, tapestries, and appliqué works became some of Japan’s best-known export items. No fashionable Victorian home was without its Japanese drapes and hangings. They were also displayed at international exhibitions, and presented as diplomatic gifts from the Japanese imperial household and government.

The textiles in this exhibition were mostly drawn from the newly-acquired collection of the Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum in Kyoto. Pieced together from around the world, this outstanding collection had never been displayed before. These textiles were enhanced with additional objects from private collections and the Ashmolean’s own holdings.

View the online exhibition here