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Kojiro Matsukata, the first president of Kawasaki Dockyard Co., Ltd. (currently Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.) Photo by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.
The National Museum of Western Art was established in 1959 with the aim of housing and displaying the Matsukata Collection, which was returned to Japan by the French government.
The founder of the Matsukata Collection, Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950 [Matsukata Kōjirō,
Kojiro Matsukata began to collect artworks in London in the middle of World War I; he had made a fortune out of his shipbuilding business during the war, which allowed him to build a vast collection of artworks. On the occasion of several visits to Europe in the decade after 1916, Matsukata frequented art galleries and acquired a tremendous number of artworks ranging from painting and sculpture to furniture and tapestries. His entire collection is purposed to have reached 10,000 works, including about 8,000 Japanese woodblock prints that he acquired from Parisian jeweler Henri Véver and are now in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum. However, his passionate art collecting was not meant for his personal pleasure; rather, it came from an unselfish desire to build an art museum on his own and to put authentic European artworks on view for the benefit of young Japanese artists.
Matsukata carried a part of his collection back to Japan and was planning to build a museum to house his collection. He named his museum the “Sheer Pleasure Fine Arts Pavilion” and entrusted his design to British painter Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), his close friend and adviser for art collecting. He even secured a building site for the museum in the center of Tokyo. However, Matsukata’s dream did not come true; his plans were disrupted by the economic crisis of 1927, in which Kawasaki Dockyard’s major bank collapsed. Matsukata resigned as president and was forced to dispose of his own property to sustain his company in crisis; the artworks he had brought to Japan were sold in a series of auctions during the following years and were thus dispersed.
Although Matsukata had left a large number of his artworks in Europe, those stored in a London warehouse were destroyed in a fire in 1939, and the details of that loss cannot be confirmed. Meanwhile, some 400 artworks had been left in Paris under the care of Léonce Bénédite, director of the Musée du Luxembourg, the contemporary French art museum of the period. Bénédite had Matsukata’s works stored in the facilities of the Musée Rodin, for which he was also director. Those artworks were sequestrated by the French government toward the end of World War II as enemy property, and they came to possession of the French nation in 1951 as part of San Francisco Peace Treaty agreements. However, the French government decided to give back the majority of those artworks to the Japanese government as a sign of the renewed amity between the two countries. The artworks, designated as the Matsukata Collection, were returned to Japan in 1959, which led to the opening of the National Museum of Western Art.
- Adapted from gallery label.
- YASHIRO, YUKIO, Geijutsu no Patoron [Art Patrons] (Tokyo: Shincho-sha, 1958).
- TAKASHINA, SHUJI, Matsukata Korekushon [Matsukata collection] (Kindai no Bijutsu [Modern Art], 2; Tokyo: Shibundo, 1971).
- MINATO, NORIKO, ‘Matsukata Kojiro to Sono Bijutsukan Kōsō ni Tsuite (jō) [Kōjirō Matsukata and his Museum Project (1)] Museum, 395 (1984), 31-40.
- MINATO, NORIKO, ‘Matsukata Kōjirō to Sono Bijutsukan Kōsō ni Tsuite (ge) [Kōjirō Matsukata and his Museum Project (2)] Museum, 396 (1984), 27-38.
- Matsukata Korekushon Seiyō Bijutsu Sōmokuroku [General Catalogue of the Old Matsukata Collection] (Kobe: “Matsukata Collection ten” Jikko Iinkai and Kobe City Museum, 1990).
- OCHI, YUJIRO, 'The Old Matsukata Collection', Bulletin of the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, 9 (1992), 23-42, 68. [with English Abstract].
- The Dream of a Museum: 120 Years of the Concept of the 'Bijutsukan' in Japan [exh. cat.] (Kobe: Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art and Kobe Shimbun, 2002).
- Kokuritsu Seiyō Bijutsukan: Kōshiki Gaido Bukku [National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo: Official Guide Book] (Tokyo: Tankōsha, 2009).
- OYA, MINA, 'Rodin’s Sculptures from the Matsukata Collection: Sculptures Transferred from the Musée Rodin between 1937 and 1948, and the Cast of Eve in the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo', Journal of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 4 (2000), 27-42. [with an English Abstract].
- TAKAHASHI, AKIYA, 'Rediscovered Sculptures by Leonardo Bistolfi (1859-1933): A Preliminary Report on Italian Masterpieces in the Ex-Matsukata Collection', Journal of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo 5 (2001), 35-41.
- BULEY-URIBE, CHRISTINA, 'Matsukata et le musée Rodin: avatars d’une collection', in Shizuoka Prefectural Museuom of Art and Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art (eds.), Rodin et le Japon: Supplément en français [exh. cat.] (Tokyo: Contemporary Sculpture Center, 2002), 87-92. [written in French].
- HASEGAWA, SABUROH, 'Le dernier chapitre de l’Odyssée Matsukata: A la lecture des documents diplomatiques de l’après-guerre', in Shizuoka Prefectural Museuom of Art and Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art (eds.), Rodin et le Japon: Supplément en français [exh. cat.] (Tokyo: Contemporary Sculpture Center, 2002 [written in French].), 93-97.
- TAKAHASHI, AKIYA, 'A Rediscovered Group of Sculptures by Leonardo Bistolfi from the Former Matsukata Collection', Journal of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo 6 (2002), 33-44. [with an English Abstract].
- WATANABE, SHINSUKE, 'A Zuccarelli Landscape Painting with Ex-Matsukata Collection Provenance', Journal of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo 9 (2005), 6-15. [with an English Abstract].
- ITO, FUMIKO, 'Kojiro Matsukata and Edvard Munch', Journal of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 10 (2006), 25-62. [with an English Abstract].
- SUGIYAMA, NAOKO, 'Maurice Denis and Japan: Kojiro Matsukata and Léonce Bénédite: An Introduction of Provenance Materials Regarding Denis Works in the Matsukata Collection, NMWA Works in the Matsukata Collection, NMWA', Journal of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 12 (2008), 27-37. [with an English Abstract].
- OGUMA, SACHIKO, 'The Reappearance of 'New Works' with Ex-Matsukata Collection Provenance', Journal of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 13 (2009), 39-50. [with an English Abstract].
- OYA, MINA, 'Frank Brangwyn and Kojiro Matsukata', Frank Brangwyn [exh. cat.] (Tokyo: The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo and Yomiuri Shimbun, 2010), 216-18. [written in English].
- OYA, MINA, 'Venice, ‘Ghent and Paris: Designing the Kyoraku Bijutsukan (Sheer Pleasure Arts Pavilion)', Frank Brangwyn [exh. cat.] (Tokyo: The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo and Yomiuri Shimbun, 2010), 229-33. [written in English].