A rare Japanese handscroll painting, dating back to the early 1700s, has been discovered in the special collections of Edinburgh’s Central Library.
The scroll, by Japanese painter Furuyama Moromasa, depicts in detailed colour a street scene bustling with life in 18th century Edo, or Tokyo. The long scroll shows shops, theatres, martial arts training, theatres and other domestic detail of life at that time.
The scroll was gifted to Edinburgh City Libraries in the 1940s by a relative of Henry Dyer, a Scottish engineer who played a major part in the industrialisation of Japan. Dyer was appointed as principal of the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo in 1873, where he stayed for 10 years, turning the College into one of the most advanced institutes of its kind in the world. He received the Order of the Rising Sun (Third Class) from the Emperor in 1882, followed by the Order of the Sacred Treasure 2nd class in June 1909.
“For many decades this scroll has been held in the Central Library special collections without anyone realising its true significance," said Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s Culture and Sport Convener.
"It is only through the passion of our library staff and the knowledge of National Museums Scotland experts that this beautiful work has been brought to light. If we are successful in getting funding to restore this painting to its former glory, then we are very much hoping that it can go on display to the public in Edinburgh at a later date.”
Two of Furuyama Moromasa’s paintings are currently held by the British Museum, but this is thought to be the largest of his works discovered anywhere in the world.
Edinburgh City Libraries and National Museums Scotland have submitted a joint application to the Sumitomo Foundation for conservation funding with the result expected in March.
Dr Rosina Buckland, Senior Curator of National Museums Scotland’s Japanese collections, calls the handscroll "a fascinating and important work".
"It presents a wealth of amusing and entertaining scenes of life in Edo (today's Tokyo) around 1700, as well as plentiful information on the lively world of the popular theatre, and is the only known large handscroll painting by this artist," she says.
“We very much hope that our funding application for specialist conservation work will be successful, so that the painting can be enjoyed by many people in Scotland, and beyond.”