The well-known painting of De groote partij is best-known by its Dutch title of De groote partij in de kamer van het Opperhoofd zijn op het Eijland (The Great Party in the room of the Opperhoofd on the Island) that appears on at least four of eight known copies after the original by Kawahara Keiga 川原慶賀, where it is rather simply titled ‘Interior at Nagasaki Deshima’ (Nagasaki Deshima kannai no zu 長崎出島舘内之圖; see Deshimazu 229). In a rather spacious room with tatami mats and the sliding panels with glass panes open to view Nagasaki Bay with two Dutch vessels at anchor, we see a party of five Dutchmen, two Japanese gentlemen, three Japanese ladies, and a Malay servant and a little dog.

There have been various attempts at identifying the occasion and the people portrayed. The first, as far as I am aware, was Kuroda Genji 黒田源次 in his Nagasaki kei yōga 長崎系洋画. Tokyo: Sōgensha 創元社, 1932, pp. 84-87. Kuroda identifies the man in the centre behind the round table to be the Opperhoofd, the chief trader, possibly Jan Cock Blomhoff (1779-1853, Opperhoofd 1817-23) or maybe Joan Willem de Stürler (1774-1855, Opperhoofd 1823-26). Otherwise he is of the opinion that we shouldn’t see this as a realistic portrayal, rather some impression of life on Deshima. There is the man to the left watching the scene, the man who took of his coat and pouring himself a glass, and the man in the red coat attempting to embrace one of the Japanese ladies. The only one who seems to have some trouble with the setting is the young man in the foreground talking to the two Japanese gentlemen, interpreters he thinks, and he might well be Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866, on Deshima 1823-29). The man to the right could, judging from his ‘Three Stars,’ mitsuboshi 三ツ星 mon on his hakama, even be Yoshio Gonnosuke 吉雄権之助. Yet, it seems unlikely that interpreters were allowed to wear a sword.

The Groote Partij, courtesy Tokyo University of Arts

C.R. Boxer in his Jan Compagnie in Japan 1600-1817. Tokyo, London and New York 1968, pp. 105f. does not agree at all with Kuroda and thinks that the painting may even be earlier. He imagines that the man in the red coat might represent Hendrik Doeff jr. (1777-1835, Opperhoofd 1803-17), “since he did have two children by a Japanese woman during his long sojourn in Nagasaki.” He also fails to accept Kuroda in his identifying Siebold in the man in the foreground. And the man standing to the left could well be some sailor—but these don’t come to the island. In his opinion, the man in the foreground is the only one trying to “raise the moral tone of the party, which if it continued as it had begun must have gone into the ‘wee sma’ hours’.” He then briefly mentions some more copies of the painting known to him (see below).

J. Stellingwerff in his De diepe wateren van Nagasaki. Franeker, 1983, p. 51, most likely following Boxer’s suggestion that it might well be Opperhoofd Doeff, concludes that the party might celebrate two centuries of Dutch-Japanese friendship on February 28th, 1809. He also sees the man in the red coat as Opperhoofd Doeff. In the centre behind the table would be the clerk Gozeman and the man pouring himself a glass the factory doctor Jan Frederik Feilke (died 1814). And it is the bookkeeper Brinkman who is involved in a discussion with the Japanese gentlemen, and to the left, standing, the clerk Schimmel. The ship at anchor would then be the American vessel Mount Vernon. Yet, he also admits that it might date from “twenty years later, as some other explanation has it.”

The most thorough discussion of the painting is by R.M. Vorstman, “De Groote Partij,” in Jaarverslag 1983 van de Vereeniging N.H.S.M. Amsterdam: Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum, pp. 36-45, who didn’t want to accept Stellingwerff’s interpretation. He not only used the official Diary, the Dagregister, kept by Opperhoofd De Stürler, but thanks to the collaboration of Ms H.M.C. Boekwijt-de Sturler, he could also avail himself of some passages from his private notes and diaries. Recognizing that the copy of the painting which the Amsterdam Scheepvaartmuseum acquired in 1981, that inspired him to investigate it more closely, is a copy after the original by Kawahara Keiga (1786-1860s, accessed onto Deshima 1823–), made him look at the various festivities on Deshima in the years from 1809 to 1828. As there are, in the original at least, two Dutch ships at anchor, he realizes that this must be the trade season generally starting from August and we don’t have to consider events in January, June and December, leaving only the birthday party of King William I, celebrated on August 24th as a possibility. And the little dog in the painting made him go—as we will see later on—for the year 1825.

Quoting Van Overmeer Fisscher in his Bijdrage tot de kennis van het Japansche rijk. (Contribution to the Knowledge of the Japanese Empire) Amsterdam 1833, p. 272, Vorstman memorizes that:

     On the 20th day of the ninth month [that is October 31st, 1825], the ships must, in accordance with an Imperial decree, depart offshore to the Papenberg /…/ usually, the departing and incoming Governor who will change locations in this month, will visit the island and come on board the ships before their departure. The preparations and obligations involved with such occasions are not the least: the streets and the buildings are made clean, the soil is strewn with white sand on the streets. The houses must remain locked and nobody is allowed in the streets. The gentlemen are being entertained by the Opperhoofd and they are being accompanied by quite some attendants. On such occasions one has to bear with their Japanese compliment on the Japanese mats, and as long as one welcomes them or when they take leave, to sit on the flour in the same way the Japanese are accustomed to.

And somewhat later on, op p. 273, Fisscher adds:

     Beyond these festive occasions, we receive the Japanese, in our daily intercourse in our manner; they sit on chairs and the interpreters love to join our dinners. They are received twice a year for a party or banquet with the Opperhoofd, on the occasion of the birthday of the king and on the New Year, and they then usually, in addition to serving themselves real well, also take whatever is left over; most of them wrap it in paper and hide it in their wide sleeves.

As the Japanese gentlemen in the painting of the ‘Groote Partij’ are seated on chairs, Vorstman—and he is not the only one—concludes that the occasion must be the birthday of his majesty the king on August 24th, 1825, the celebration of which was postponed until October 8th. The reason for this was that there was still no sign of the Johanna Elisabeth, Captain M. Mesdagh, the second ship that had sailed from Batavia on July 2nd together with the Vasco de Gama, which already went for anchor at Nagasaki on August 6th. Opperhoofd De Stürler then notes in his Dagregister “The birthday of his Majesty. Had the flag risen. But postponed the celebration as we are uncertain about what causes the delay of the ship.” And on Saturday October 8th:

     Today we celebrated the birthday of his majesty the king which had been postponed since August 24th. The Opperhoofd was congratulated by the Dutch and the Japanese staff of the factory and he hosted a dinner where they attended. The flags were risen and in the evening the ships and the houses on Deshima were illuminated with lanterns.

The Vasco de Gama and the Johanna Elisabeth at anchor in Nagasaki Bay, courtesy National Archives, The Hague

Vorstman has several suggestions for the identities of the persons portrayed but I am afraid that he fails to fully convince me. In the man with the blue coat he recognizes Opperhoofd De Stürler, and in the young man in the foreground his son Jacques Eduard de Stürler (1800-1840). As for the obviously somewhat elder man in the red coat, he thinks this might be the Warehouse Master Van Overmeer Fisscher, then just 25 years old and thus not very likely. The man pouring himself another glass would be one of the captains of the ships, but then, where is the other one. As an alternative, he suggests Carl Hubert de Villeneuve, one of the assistants of Siebold, which is also not very likely as he neither sees Siebold or the other assistant Bürger in the picture. As for the man seen on the back, Vorstman proposes that he might be the clerk Verkerk Pistorius of whom De Stürler doesn’t think high, and this might explain his gesturing hand, as if to say get out of here. That, at least, is quite well possible.

To reach a fully convincing identification of the persons in the painting, we should have a closer look at the Deshima staff at the time. The oldest person in the factory is undoubtedly Opperhoofd De Stürler, then 50 years old. The second is Captain Ary Bezemer (1783-1853), then 41 or 42 years old. Follow Siebold, exactly 29 years old, Warehouse Master Van Overmeer Fisscher (1800-1848) and Carl Hubert de Villeneuve (1800-1874) both 25, the Scribe Pierre van Outeren is 24 years old, the clerk Verkerk Pistorius 20 years, and Heinrich Bürger (1806-1858) 19, even though he would mostly say that he was 21. We then probably should conclude that the man in the blue coat in the centre behind the round table must be Opperhoofd De Stürler, a courtesan holding a cat in her arms at his side. In De Stürler’s private diary we can find some note regarding his coat, as “He [the secretary of the governor] told me that he found my coat of dark blue velvet and richly embroidered in gold very beautiful and also asked whether he could see my hat that he thought equally beautiful” (August 5th, 1824). And the somewhat elder man to the right of him, in the red coat, who is obtruding himself upon the young courtesan, must then be Captain Bezemer. Remains the man wearing a hat who put his coat over the folding screen in the foreground, and the young man involved in a discussion with the two Japanese gentlemen. Anyway, he hardly looks like Siebold as we know him from Keiga paintings.

Again, we can find an answer in the Dagregister, when we read on Friday 21 October that the Opperhoofd organizes a reception for both the governors of Nagasaki:

     Then they [the two governors, having inspected the Dutch ships, see the quotation above from Fisscher] came to the Island and to my house where they were received in the best possible way and they were most condescending. I introduced them to my son whom they asked some questions and they made some flattering comments. Thereafter they went into the garden, watched a game of billiards, viewed the Collection of Natural curiosities of Dr. Von Siebold and then left the Island.

And in his private diary we can read that “They were treated to pastry and liquor and chocolate, etcetera, as is the custom.” Indeed, this was the customary inspection of the ships followed by the party, as one of the governors has returned from Edo and the other one will then depart for Edo, taking advantage of the opportunity to greet the Opperhoofd and eventually also get acquainted with the incoming Opperhoofd. Coincidentally, they were the same as last year, Hidekata Izumo no Kami 土方出雲守 and Takahashi Echizen no Kami 高橋越前守, visiting on October 31st, 1824. Then also, Siebold already lived in the large house in the garden where he enjoyed the space to store his collections. On that occasion, De Stürler notes in his private diary:

     /…/ whereupon they visited the house in the garden that is presently inhabited by the factory doctor, who played for them on his forte piano and showed them some 100 drawings of Japanese plants that will serve to be printed and published, which they were very pleased to hear.

In 1825, Opperhoofd De Stürler had one special wish, as can be inferred from his private diary, “and were most condescending /…/ my son, whom I had requested and received the permission to introduce to them /…/.” Yes, the Japanese really don’t like surprises, and this is the 25 years old Jacques Eduard de Stürler who took the opportunity, being on leave from his position in the Dutch East-Indies, to visit his father during the trade season at Deshima. And this is, indeed, the young man in the foreground talking with the two governors, Hidekata Izumo no Kami and Takahashi Echizen no Kami, both undoubtedly entitled to wear two swords, having of course left the long one at the entrance. And the man to the right in the painting who put his coat over the folding screen in the foreground would naturally be Captain Mesdagh whom the governors also had visited earlier that day on his ship. And the large party mentioned by Fisscher would be gathered in a more spacious room on the tatami mats, but this is no doubt a short gathering before they would join the real ‘Groote Partij.’ If, indeed, there was something like a Groote Partij, as Opperhoofd De Stürler notes “/…/ and then left the Island.”

Anyway, it would seem highly unlikely if Opperhoofd De Stürler’ dog would also run after the dishes as these were served in the larger room with all the guests seated on the tatami. Feeling sometimes a little lonely on Deshima, De Stürler imagined that a dog would be some nice company. On July 15th, 1824, he notes in his private diary that he had received from “Tamifatsiro” /…/ “also the dog.” And in December 1825, he notes that “The son of Dennosin had bought a dog for me from the nest /…/ but instead he gave me one of at least a year and a half. Captain Bezemer has taken it over from me.” Most probably this is Tamehachirō 為八郎 (?), the son of Yokota Dennoshin 横田伝之進 (?), the 2nd secretary of the governor who, as we already saw, so much liked the blue coat of the Opperhoofd. And thus, everything is accounted for in this private visit of the two governors of Nagasaki to the Opperhoofd, having earlier that day, October 21st, 1825, inspected both the Dutch ships. In the end, we are sorry to say that Vorstman, who in a letter of April 1982 still believed that “the painting of the Groote Partij should be associated with the visit of both governors at Deshima on October 21st, 1825,” would in the end come to conclude that the occasion would rather be the celebration of the king’s birthday on October 8. All the evidence from De Stürler’s private diaries that Ms Boekwijt-de Sturler shared with him, and who in her letter of September 1983 correctly suggested that the painting recorded the visit on October 21st, failed to convince him.

A dinner at the house of the Opperhoofd at Deshima, courtesy Nagasaki Prefectural Museum of History and Culture

We again find Opperhoofd De Stürler’s doggy and the less formally dressed man in another Keiga painting, also an interior in the house of the Opperhoofd (see Deshimazu 222H). Stellingwerff sees this as some preparatory study for the Groote Partij. As the painter Kiosky [sic] had problems with the perspective “/…/ Kiosky tried it out by making various copies of two scenes, one with the figures arranged around a circular table in the centre of the large room and another with them seated at a table in the corner.” The Opperhoofd De Stürler is again seated behind the table in the centre, and at his side is again the courtesan holding a cat. Next to him, standing and cutting the meat, Siebold directly identifiable from the green cap from his student days in Würzburg where he was a member of the student society Moenania. Opposite of him is Bürger, recognizable from the fur-rimmed hat to cover his head, being Jewish. In between them, at the far end of the table will be De Villeneuve. The man to the left of the Opperhoofd must then be Captain Mesdagh, wearing his hat and again pouring himself a glass. The somewhat elder man seated at the short end of the table must then be Captain Bezemer, and finally, next to Bürger, we again find the young Jacques Eduard de Stürler. In this way we indeed have a most likely company gathered for the dinner that is served every day in the Large Opperhoofd’s House. Moreover, we can now also roughly date this painting to sometime in between late August and October 31st, 1825, when the ships sail to the Papenberg. And the dog that Captain Bezemer would later, on 20 December take along to Batavia, is here still playfully running after the Malay servant bringing in some saucer with some leg.