On August 19th, 1839, Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre invented the daguerreotype. As the world’s first practical method for taking photographs, the invention brought popularity to photography around the world. In Japanese, the daguerreotype is called “ginban shashin” (silver-plate photograph).
In the booming economy of the subsequent Industrial Revolution (1837), photographic technology continued to develop to meet the demand for portraiture from the middle class. European interest in photography exploded in the 1840s, but it still cost about ¥100,000 to have a single portrait taken in a studio (converted to modern yen).
Before the spread of photography, demand for portraiture — the selfies of that era — was generally met through the medium of oil painting.
With that background information in mind, I went to the first solo exhibition in 35 years for John Constable (1776–1837), a leading British painter who was active in the 19th century. As a fan of Turner, I found the works on display irresistible.
John Constable was skilled not only at portraiture, but also landscape painting. Constable lived in an era on the eve of the Industrial Revolution, just before the spread of photography.
In that era, people enjoyed a lifestyle described as “picturesque,” combining not only paintings but also literature, travel, landscape gardening, and tours to appreciate nature.
Try to imagine just how avant-garde it was to make an oil painting of a landscape before your eyes in an era before photography. Now, take a time machine and enjoy the scenery of England 200 years ago.
Constable Exhibition (from the collection of the Tate Art Museum)
Location: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo
2-6-2 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Date: February 20th–May 30th, 2021