The Red Curtain

The Red Curtain by Mortimer Menpes. 1901. Watercolor. Source: Japan: A Record in Colour, facing p. 76. Text close to this painting suggests its significance for Menpes:

The outsides as well as the insides of their houses are decorated in the harmonious principle, even to the painting of signs in the street. They are most particular about placing their richly coloured sign duly in relation to its surroundings. In the same way — whether the subject may be done in a string of lanterns or what not — whatever is done is done harmoniously, and in no case is decoration the result of accident. The sum of it all is that every shop in an ordinary street is a perfect picture. At first you are amazed at the beauty of everything. “How in the world is it,” you ask yourself, “that by a series of apparent accidents everything appears beautiful?” You cannot imagine until you know that even the “common man” has acquired the scientific placing of his things, and that the feeling permeates all classes....

You will often see a family collected on the opposite side of the road watching their father place a signboard in front of his shop. It might be a grocer’s shop, and all — even to the mite strapped to the back of its sister — are eagerly watching the moving about of this board, and are interested to see that it should place itself well in relation to the broad masses around, such as the tea-box, etc. [78-80]

Another of Mepes's examples is of the infinite pains taken to stick a stamp in just the right place on an envelope. These are not exaggerations. A foreigner in Japan is condemned to feeling perpetually clumsy and gauche. — Jacqueline Banerjee

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Menpes, Dorothy. Japan: A Record in Colour. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1901. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Libraries. Web. 26 June 2019.

Created 26 June 2019