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Matsukata Collection

Kojiro Matsukata
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 (12th month of Keiō1 in the Japanese Calendar; January 1866-1950 [Matsukata Kōjirō 松方 幸次郎]), was the third son of Masayoshi Matsukata, a politician of the Meiji period who rose to the post of Prime Minister. After completing his college preparatory studies in Tokyo, Kojiro Matsukata went to America for further studies, obtaining a JD in law from Yale University. Kojiro traveled through Europe enroute to Japan, where he then acted as his father’s official secretary for some time. In 1896 Kojiro became the first president of the Kawasaki Dockyard Co., Ltd. of Kobe. He was also at one time the president of the Kobe Shimbun newspaper company and of the Kobe Gas Company. He was later elected chairman of the Kobe Chamber of Commerce and served as a member of the Diet.
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 Vever 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 Leonce Benedite, director of the Musee du Luxembourg, the contemporary French art museum of the period. Benedite had Matsukata’s works stored in the facilities of the Musee 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.

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