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Richard Arkwright from the series Legends of Great Westerners

Picture of Mitsui Group's Western-style Three Story House at Surugacho, Tokyo

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Richard Arkwright

from the series Legends of Great Westerners

attributed to the school of Utagawa Kuniteru II, 1873

Picture of Mitsui Group's Western-style Three Story House at Surugacho, Tokyo

IHL Cat. #1971

About This Print

One of fourteen prints in the series of color woodblock educational prints Legends of Great Westerners issued in 1873 by the Ministry of Education (文部省 Monbushō). This print depicts an angry Richard Arkwright (1732-1792), British inventor and industrialist, casting his wife out of house for destroying his model of the spinning frame. 

Arkwright's 1768 spinning frame was the first textile machine designed to be water powered. There are various versions and embellishments to the story of Arkwright's wife smashing his model.  Some have this wife, in fact his second wife Margaret Biggins, smashing many of his models, but they all mention that she was angered by the time and money he was spending on his models and wanted him to return to his earlier profession as a barber and wig-maker.

It is suggested that many of the woodblock prints in this series used the Chinese translation of  “Chambers’s Information for the People", 1842 by William and Robert Chambers for their source material.  Chambers describes the incident depicted in this print as follows:
The fashion of wig-wearing having undergone a change, distress fell upon the wig-makers; and Arkwright, being of a mechanical turn, was consequently induced to turn machine inventor or “conjurer,” as the pursuit was then popularly termed.  Many attempts were made about that time to invent a spinning-machine, and our barber determined to launch his little bark on the sea of invention with the rest.  Like other self-taught men of the same bias, he had already been devoting his spare time to the invention of a perpetual-motion machine; and from that the transition to a spinning-machine was easy.  He followed his experiments so assiduously that he neglected his business, lost the little money he had saved, and was reduced to great poverty.  His wife—for he had by this time married—was impatient at what she conceived to be a wanton waste of time and money, and in a moment of sudden wrath she seized upon and destroyed his models, hoping thus to remove the cause of the family privations.  Arkwright was a stubborn and enthusiastic man, and he was provoked beyond measure by this conduct of his wife, from whom he immediately separated.

Sources: website of Slate, "19th-Century Japanese Prints Showing the Trials of Western Inventors" by REBECCA ONION  JULY 17, 2014 https://slate.com/human-interest/2014/07/history-of-invention-japanese-prints-showing-the-trials-of-western-inventors.html
University of Tsukuba Library http://www.tulips.tsukuba.ac.jp/exhibition/bakumatu/nisikie/ijinden.html#ca
Note: The below transcription follows the line breaks on the print, includes hiragana either to the left or right of the Kanji on the print and uses the new Kanji character forms.

A loose and summarized translation of the below tells us that the Englishman [Richard] Arkwright wanted to make a spinning-frame. It took him such a long time that he became very poor and so his wife got mad and broke his machine. Angry at her, he sent her away. But even after all this, he succeeded and became extremely rich.


About the Series "Legends of Great Westerners"
This series of fourteen prints is referred to by various names including "Great Western Inventions," Great Western Inventors".  The University of Tsukuba which has a collection of near 100 educational prints issued by the Ministry of Education, titles the series 泰西偉人伝, which I have translated as "Legends of Great Westerners." 

The series consists of fourteen prints as follows: 
Ministry of Education Full-Color Woodblock Prints
The newly formed Ministry of Education issued full-color woodblock prints for childhood education between 1873 and 1885.  In addition to prints issued by the Ministry, color woodblock educational prints were also issued by private publishers, such as those of the series Brocade Pictures for Moral Education (錦絵修身談 Nishiki-e shūshindan), a collaborative effort of the artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), his students and the Tokyo publishing house Fukyūsha, issued in 1883 and 1884.

For more information on the color woodblock prints issued by the Ministry of Education see the article Educational Color Woodblock Prints (issued by the Ministry of Education) on this site.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description Richard Arkwright アークライト
 Series Legends of Great Westerners 泰西偉人伝 
 Artist Utagawa Kuniteru II (1830-1874) [attributed to the school of]
 Signature unsigned but attributed to the school of Utagawa Kuniteru II by multiple sources
 Seal of Artist none
 Publication Date
seal of the Ministry of Education [Monbushō] reading 文部省製本所発行記 [published by Ministry of Education] 
 Impression excellent
 Colors good
 Condition fair -  large stain on bottom right of print
 Genre ukiyo-e; kyōiku nishiki-e [full-color educational prints]
 Format oban
 H x W Paper 
 13 3/4 x 9 5/16 in. (34.9 x 23.7 cm)
 H x W Image 13 1/2 x 9 1/8 in. (34.3 x 23.2 cm)

 Collections This Print
University of Tsukuba library http://www.tulips.tsukuba.ac.jp/lib/ja/collection/rare-kyoiku-nishikie
last revision:
1/17/2019 (created)