If you’re into art, Tokyo is a great place to be. Not just Asian art, but ALL art. Back in the heyday of the Japanese economy, there were many successful companies and businessmen in Japan. Many of whom bought art. The National Museum of Western Art came to be as a result of one of those early and inspired collectors, Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950). Matsukata was a wealthy shipbuilder, who was educated in America (Yale) and travelled widely in Europe. He began collecting in the middle of WWI and continued until the late 1920s. His goal was to create a museum to share these great works with the public and indeed, he began plans to do so; however, the economic crisis of 1927 forced him to sell the majority of his works except for an unknown number of pieces that remained stored in Europe. Many works were lost in an undocumented fire in the UK, but the French government confiscated approximately 400 works stored in France as enemy property at the end of WWII. They were housed and cared for at the Musee Rodin and eventually returned to Japan by the French in 1959 with the proviso that a museum be built to house them. Thus the National Museum of Western Art, designed by Le Corbusier, opened in 1959 to showcase the Matsukata Collection.
The museum itself is an amazing building filled with natural light, pillars to allow the free flow of air, a large ramp (instead of a staircase) from the entrance to the first floor to encourage visitors to take in the vista of the changing levels, various mezzanines and long horizontal windows. Le Corbusier created the modular system of proportions and used it to design the museum. Click here for more on Le Corbusier and his design.
So back to the museum. It was lovely, the art was beautifully displayed, it wasn’t crowded and it was mercifully cool. The had a special exhibition of rings (jewellery) from the Hashimoto Collection which was very well done as they incorporated clothing and paintings that corresponded to specific pieces which made it much more interesting…I find endless displays of jewellery and artifacts a little tedious. The Louvre comes to mind. A heathen, I know.
Anyway, this is only one of many museums with Western art in Tokyo. Last week I went to the exhibits at The National Art Center, but there’s also The Bridgestone Museum of Art (yes, the tire company) that has an amazing collection of 19th century European art; and the Sompo Japan Museum of Art (yup, an insurance company) that houses one of Van Gogh’s Sunflower paintings and other 19th century European painters as well as Japanese artists. Not to mention the amazing collections of Asian art, sculpture, Japanese woodblock prints, contemporary paintings and installations, calligraphy and don’t forget the PAPER MUSEUM! Stay tuned…