The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

by Stefan Chiarantano, Oct 23, 2006 | Destinations: Japan

Located within Ueno Park, it displays Matsukata's French collection that survived the second world war and was returned to the Japanese people. The French collection was recognised as French property under the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951). As a goodwill gesture, a total of 365 art works were returned to Japan including 196 paintings, 80 drawings, 26 prints, and 63 sculptures. One of the stipulations of the French government was that a national art museum be established to house and display the art works, and this led to the Japanese government to found the National Museum of Western Art. Many important pieces were returned but others found their way into French museums or were sold.

Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950) began collecting at the same time as Dr. Albert Barnes. He was a successful entrepreneur and used his fortune to collect European art. He was the third son of Count Masayoshi Matsukata, a Japanese Prime Minister. Kojiro Matsukata graduated with a PhD in Civil Law from Yale University in 1890. He first worked as his father's personal secretary. He then became a senior executive of the Kawasaki Shipping Company eventually becoming its president. In 1922, The New York Herald described him as the 'mysterious Japanese' who had been buying art at extravagant prices.

His motives for collecting European art were philanthropic. He was motivated by the desire to provide Japanese artists with the real thing since many of them were creating oil paintings without having seen an example of the real thing.

Paul Durand-Ruel acted as one of his art dealers as did the London artist Frank Brangwyn. There was also Yashiro Yukio, and Tsuchida Bakusen, a Japanese painter living in Paris. Leonce Benedicte, Director of the Musee de Luxemborg, Paris also located paintings for Matsukata. Kojiro Matzukata also purchased many pictures form the collection of Wilhelm Hansen.

The Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 had dire consequences on the Japanese economy which consequently affected Kawasaki Shipping Company. He resigned as its president in 1928. His vast collection became part of the Kawasaki assets, with a significant portion being sold and scattered. He had already shipped many works to Japan in 1919 and 1920 but the 100% import duty persuaded him to leave the reminder in London and Paris.

His London collection was reported to have been destroyed in a warehouse fire in Knightsbridge on October 8, 1939. The French collection was seized by the French government as enemy property when Japan entered the war.

The Museum boasts one of the finest collection of Rodin sculptures in the world. The forecourt of the museum is the display area for Rodin's sculptures - The Kiss, Gates of Hell, Burghers of Calais, and The Thinker. Also, on display is Emile-Antoine Bourdelle's Hercules the Archer 1909. Within the museum, The Age of Bronze, Orpheus, Balzac (Last Study) and Man with the Broken Nose are exhibited. Also on view is Jean-Baptiste Carpeau, The Neapolitan Fisherboy.

Works that caught my attention included:

Petrified Forest Max Ernst

The Loving Cup Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1867

Madame Jean Renoir (Catherine Hessling) Andre Derain 1923

Salome at the Prison Gustave Moreau C1873-76

Roses Vincent Van Gogh 1889

Water Lilies Claude Monet

Eugene Boudin Beach of Trouville 1867

The Garden of Gethsemane c1518 Lucas Cranach (The Elder) (1472 - 1553) Jesus is praying. His three disciples are asleep. His jailors are entering at the Gate. There are many. An angel is looking down on Jesus. The Angel is holding a challis.

Joos van Cleve (c 1485 ? - 1540/41) Triptych: The crucifixion Flanked by the kneeling Donor and His wife. Christ is crucified on the cross. At his feet to his left are the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and a disciple (John, Peter?) and to the right, are the Roman Soldiers. Above Christ is a depiction of God.

Follower of Joachim Patinir (1485 - 1524) Triptych: Rest on the Flight into Egypt The Madonna is nursing the baby Jesus.

Jacopo del Sellaio (1482 - 1493) Votive Altarpiece: The Trinity, the Virgin, St. John and Donors (c1480 - 85) The trinity is depicted. Christ is crucified on the cross. The Holy Ghost which is depicted as a dove stands above Christ's head, God the Father is in the background supporting the cross with his hands.

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine (c.1547) The baby Jesus is caressing St. Catherine's cheek and looking into her eyes. He is grasping his mother's veil. St. Catherine is deep in thought and is staring into space. She is touching the chest of baby Jesus with her index and middle fingers. St. Joseph is looking on squatting in the background.

Giorgio Vasari (1511 - 1574) The Garden of Gethsemane (c1570?)

The angel is in the process of blessing Jesus with his right hand which is held in the air. In his left hand, he is holding a golden chalice. Jesus has his arms outstretched. He is kneeling and looking up to heaven. The jailors are led into the garden by Judas, his traitor, and his three disciples are fast asleep.

Joachim Berickelaer (c1534-c1574) Christ Carrying the Cross (1562) Christ has slipped. His left hand is supporting the cross drapped over his shoulder and his right hand is resting on a rock. A Roman soldier who is standing to the right of the cross is about to whip the Lord. An elderly man has come to Christ's help. He is attempting to lift the cross. Another Roman soldier is standing over Jesus and is about to hit him with his right fist. There is a precession of soldiers and passersby behind Jesus. There are many people standing and watching the procession on both sides. The Virgin Mary has collapsed and is being assisted by three women attendants. A beautiful young woman with her hands in prayer is looking on. Ahead of Jesus are two prisoners with their hands tied behind their backs. They are flanked by Roman soldiers. At the top right hand corner of the picture, there is a scene of the crucifixation. Jesus is tied around the waist with a rope. He is being pulled by two Roman soldiers. They are flanked by the executioner who is carrying over his shoulders a ladder from which is hanging a basket holding tools such as a hammer.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria Attributed to Simon Varet (1590-1649)

Philip de Champaigne (1602-1674) Mary Magdalene Oil on canvas. Before her on the table is a wooden makeshift cross, a book (the bible?) and a vase with a lid. She has her hands clasped in the prayer position. Here eyes are looking upward.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria Attributed to Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1675-1741)

Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) Greek women imploring the Virgin for Assistance 1826

1. Christ carried town to the Tomb 1855 Eugene Delacroix

2. The Education of the Virgin (1852) Eugene Delacroix

Claude Monet (1840-1928) 1 Charring Cross Bridge in London 2 Waterloo Bridge in London 3 Yellow Irises

Fernand Leger Red Cock and Blue Sky 1953

Do visit The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. You won't be disappointed.

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