Check out this wonderful collection of Japanese postcards created by a selection of many artists between 1900 and 1940. Though created as a form of advertising, the postcards are an excellent example of Japanese experimentation with what were then the latest European styles, such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
These postcards are all from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection of over 20,000 Japanese postcards which were donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2002.
During the first decades of the twentieth century, the new medium of the postcard quickly replaced the traditional woodblock print as the favored tableau for contemporary Japanese images. Hundreds of millions of postcards were produced to meet the demands of a public eager to acquire pictures of their rapidly modernizing nation.
Many of the first cards were distributed by the government in connection with the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), to promote the war effort. Almost immediately, however, many of Japan’s leading artists—attracted by the informality and intimacy of the postcard medium—began to create stunning designs. For these painters and graphic designers postcards also provided exciting opportunities to experiment with the latest European styles, such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Between 1900 and 1940, Japan was transformed into an international, industrial, and urban society.
Postcards—both a fresh form of visual expression and an important means of advertising—reveal much about the dramatically changing values of Japanese society at the time. One of the most stunning revelations of the picture postcards that the Japanese produced en masse is how extraordinarily “modern” and even avant-garde many of them were.
Explosions, hot-air military observation balloons, Russian and Japanese war flags, enemy gunboats, even sinking warships and landmines became transformed into emblems of beauty, modernity, and cutting-edge creativity…The “blank” spaces on most graphics—often aesthetically attractive in themselves—were where messages were written. In some cases, the personal message was handwritten right over the image.
You can learn more about this collection here: Museum of Fine Art Boston