Renoir, Monet and the Tire King.

Hottest day ever...almost too hot to pose and definitely too hot to cross the street and get a closer picture of that large metal giraffe.

Hottest day ever…almost too hot to pose and definitely too hot to cross the street and get a closer picture of that large metal giraffe.

In Japan oftentimes large corporations have significant art collections–one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is owned by a Japanese insurance company and the Bridgestone Museum, which houses a lovely collection of French and European 19th and 20th century art, is owned by the tire company. The museum was founded in 1952 by Ishibashi Shojiro to house his private collection which he later donated to the Ishibashi Foundation which has expanded the collection regularly.

I love this museum because it’s small, it has a carefully curated collection with paintings from most major impressionist artists, a small sculpture gallery as well as a very respectable collection of realism, post-Impressionism, modernism and even some abstract art. The best thing was that the museum also houses a collection of Japanese art-works of the time that were painted in the western style. Fascinating. I’d never seen or heard of any of these artists so I learned a lot and saw some paintings I’d never seen or heard of before today.

It was ridiculously hot today though, hard to even walk a couple of blocks from the metro stop. Happy we did walk as there was a very cool stationery store staffed by the tiniest and cutest elderly Japanese lady ever—she wrapped Karis’s stuff separately so she could have her very own package ;-). We also saw a random museum and cafe celebrating the history of Pilot Pens. Did you know they have the first and only retractable fountain pen? Didn’t buy one, mostly because they weren’t for sale. Talk about a missed marketing opportunity….




Art Attack. Ueno Park, part 4.

national museum of western art

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…

Culture Club in Tokyo

Incredible detail and imagination...made me think of Enigma Aracana #rayandjane

Incredible detail and imagination…made me think of Enigma Aracana #rayandjane

The Monet painting he had to use as collateral for his rent :-) #mylandlordisanidiot

The Monet painting he had to use as collateral for his rent 🙂 #mylandlordisanidiot

A most excellent day at a most excellent museum…The National Art Centre in Roppongi. Two great exhibitions: Ballet Russe-The Art of Costume and The Birth of Impressionism Freedom in Painting: Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay. Both were excellent but I’d have to say I liked the Ballet Russe one a bit better as I’ve never seen anything like it before. The paintings from the Musee d’Orsay exhibit were not any of their major pieces but they still had some of my favourites by Monet, Caillebotte, Cezanne and Sisely.

I learned a few things I didn’t know…always nice, makes it all worthwhile. First, in the Impressionist exhibit, there was a huge painting by Monet that was in two separate pieces. It was styled after Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe as a tribute to both the painting and the artist. The reason it was cut in pieces is that Monet was short of cash and had to give it to his landlord as collateral. When he got it back, it was damaged and he had to cut out the damaged parts and it ended up as two paintings.

In the Ballet Russe exhibit I learned a lot more, as I knew very little about Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe. Most interestingly I learned that a French painter I’ve always liked, Marie Laurencin, was a costume designer for the Ballet Russe. The costumes are the property of the National Gallery of Australia. They’re amazingly detailed and imaginative…not surprising I guess since Ballet Russe was a group of incredibly talented group of artists, dancers, choreographers, designers, painters, musicians who were on the cutting edge of art and culture at the time.