During the first decades of the twentieth century, the new medium of the postcard quickly replaced the traditional woodblock print as the favored tableau for contemporary Japanese images. Hundreds of millions of postcards were produced to meet the demands of a public eager to acquire pictures of their rapidly modernizing nation. Many of the first cards were distributed by the government in connection with the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), to promote the war effort. Almost immediately, however, many of Japan’s leading artists–attracted by the informality and intimacy of the postcard medium–began to create stunning designs. For these painters and graphic designers postcards also provided exciting opportunities to experiment with the latest European styles, such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
Between 1900 and 1940, Japan was transformed into an international, industrial, and urban society. Postcards–both a fresh form of visual expression and an important means of advertising–reveal much about the dramatically changing values of Japanese society at the time.
In March 2002 Leonard A. Lauder donated his collection of more than twenty thousand Japanese postcards to the Museum of Fine Arts. These works largely date from the early twentieth century to the years just before World War Two and represent an astonishing array of subjects and styles.