World's Columbian Exposition

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The World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of the New World, is one of the more prominently discussed of the historical World's Fairs.

Japan was permitted to set its own determinations as to what counted as "fine arts" (as opposed to "decorative arts" or other categories), and as a result a wide range of Japanese works were able to be displayed at the exposition's Palace of Fine Arts. Many of these, including traditional-style hanging scroll paintings, folding screen paintings, cloisonné works, and even relief sculptures, were placed in frames in order to better appear to Western audiences as "fine art." A number of now-famous works (or, at least, works by now-famous artists) were displayed at this Chicago exposition, including "Aged Monkey," a wooden sculpture by Takamura Kôun, today often proudly displayed at the Tokyo National Museum; as well as works by Suzuki Shônen, Ogata Gekkô, and others. Shônen even won an award for one of his displayed works.[1]

In addition, Japan constructed a recreation of the Phoenix Hall of the Byôdô-in, a demonstration of the greatness and beauty of ancient Japanese architecture, to serve as the Japan Pavilion for the Fair.


  • Matsushima Masato, "Japan's Dream of Modern Art," Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the Tokyo National Museum. Cleveland Museum of Art (2014), 18-19.
  1. Paul Berry and Michiyo Morioka (eds.) Literati Modern: Bunjinga from Late Edo to Twentieth-Century Japan. Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 2008. p299.