Portrait of Chester Alan Arthur (1829-1886)

Toshitsugu Nakayama (1840-c. 1900), Yokohama, Japan
Date: c. 1881-1885
Medium: Watercolor, silver, gold leaf, silk, paper, canvas, and wood
Dimensions: 55 1/2 H x 23 7/8 W

Signed bottom left: “T. Nakayama/Yokohama/Japan”

Credit: Gift of Hiland G. Batcheller
Accession Number: 1954.60

What an odd juxtaposition!—U.S. President Chester Alan Arthur dressed in traditional Japanese samurai costume. According to family history, the Japanese artist Toshitsugu Nakayama traveled to Washington D.C. to paint Arthur’s portrait some time during his presidency between 1881 and 1885. No record of such a meeting exists. More likely, a photograph of Arthur was sent to the artist in Japan, and after completing the portrait the artist had it sent to Arthur mounted with silk brocades in the manner of Japanese scroll paintings.

 Nakayama trained with the noted artist and printmaker Kuniyoshi Utagawa. By the time Nakayama painted Arthur’s portrait, Japan and the United States had entered its third decade of diplomatic and economic relations. Japan designated the port city of Yokohama as the official commercial district for foreign trade; it was also a hub of cultural exchange. Nakayama was one of many Japanese artists working in Yokohama who depicted the ongoing meeting of East and West.