Charles Wirgman was the first Western teacher of Western-style painting and satirical cartooning to work in Japan. He was also a founding partner of one of the most successful photographic studios in Japan. Among his many achievements, he helped to change the direction of Japanese graphics and thus influence the creation of modern manga. Through his satirical magazine Japan Punch, not to mention his personal eccentricity and almost casual courage, he helped to foster the image of the wacky foreigner in Japan. As a newspaper correspondent he sent thrilling reports from the new Eastern frontier, accompanied by sketches before the new art of photography spread to the Press. And through his partnership with Felice Beato and their sales of souvenir photographs to returning soldiers and expats, he helped to foster the Western concept of Japan as a quaint, magical otherworld, rooted in the mists of antiquity, peopled by smiling fairy maidens and stern elven knights.
This image was so powerful that its traces persist to this day. Wirgman’s Sketch Book of Japan sums it up in simple, charming lines. Here are some more examples of Wirgman & Beato’s Japan: a land of mystery, enchantment, high hazard and true romance.