Manx National Heritage was recently the recipient of a rare and unusual piece of artwork. The oil painting depicts Mrs Elizabeth Karran, the wife of Captain John Karran, a member of the Castletown family which owned the famous Karran Fleet. Karran vessels traded all over the world at the end of the nineteenth century, and it was understood that the portrait was painted in Japan, from a photograph carried on one of the vessels during a trading voyage.
A signature, ‘J Kasagi’ gave a clue to the identity of the artist, and MNH curators, working with a Japanese colleague were able to confirm that this was in fact Jirokichi Kasagi, who was painting in the port of Yokohama at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Many Japanese records relating to the Kasagi family were destroyed in allied bombing during the Second World War, and the artist’s grandson is now trying to gather as much information as he can about his grandfather. He was delighted to be contacted by MNH and was able to confirm the attribution.
Sixty-five year old Hidefumi Kasagi wrote in an email;
‘I have never visited the Isle of Man, but this name is very impressive for me because I was working at the Honda Motor Company for 40 years. Although I am not an Occultist, I feel very strange that your e-mail was received on the day our family decided to have special memorial ceremony for ancestor, and today we will go to the temple for this ceremony.’
Kasagi’s work is now highly regarded – and collected in Europe. Matthew Richardson, MNH Curator of Social History, added:
‘One of the great delights of working in a museum is that you never know what will turn up next, and it can be a fascinating process of detective work to piece together the wonderful stories which lie behind historic artefacts. Here we have a piece of artwork which illustrates the trading routes that existed between the Isle of Man and the far east during the age of sail. It is often forgotten that before the Second World War, there were quite close links between Japan and the west, indeed Japan was an ally of Great Britain during the First World War.’
It is hoped that after some conservation work, the portrait will be on show in the National Art Gallery at the Manx Museum.