Steamship and Asian sailing vessels at port.

Speed and Splendour

By Sea to Asia

On View November 23, 2021 to February 27 2022

Speed and Splendour explores how travel posters in the early 20th century affected western perceptions of Asia.

Steamship travel from Vancouver to major ports in Asia increased in the early 20th century. This coincided with changes in ship design and propulsion technology. Ships like the Empress liners of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) became grander. They also offered more onboard amenities than vessels of the late 19th century.

As ships became more luxurious, the marketing of voyages and destinations changed. Posters promoting travel to Asia became common after WWI and the depression years. 

Speed and Splendour features posters and ephemera from CPR steamships and from Japanese steamship company Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK). The posters show how each company presented Asian destinations and culture to western audiences.

The CPR materials use dramatic painted scenes. They often present grand steamships alongside imagined scenes of Asian people or ports. Stereotypes of Asian culture and dress are rendered in impressionistic techniques. These images create a sense of “exotic otherness.”

The materials created by NYK present more authentic depictions of artwork and culture. They include details like Japanese characters on English menus.

Speed and Splendour is curated in collaboration with the Canadian Society for Asian Art (CSAA). The exhibition features posters from the VMM collection, the UBC Chung collection and the CSAA collection.

Canadian Society for Asian Art logo
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