In Japan, curiosity abounds when it comes to anything “western” and with many a gimmick around, it’s often all too surprising when the “westerner” doesn’t quite share the same enthusiasm. The National Museum of Western Art however, is one exception. The museum houses the Matsukata Collection, a collection that was seized by France during World War II and then later in 1959, handed back to Japan as part of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.
The exhibits include the works of Picasso, Rodin, Monet, Van Gogh and Cezanne. The collector, Kojiro Matsukata (1865 – 1950) was a politician and wealthy businessman with interests in the shipbuilding and newspaper industries. His Father was a Meiji Era politician, so from a young age Matsukata was bought up with the idea that Japan’s success in the future lay in its ability to westernize. It became Matsukata’s mission in life to make western art and culture accessible to all.
Following the outbreak of World War I, Matsukata was able to follow his dream. Profits from his ship building business allowed him to travel extensively throughout Europe, collecting works of art as he went. Bad luck lay ahead however. In 1927 his shipbuilding business sank. He was forced to sell part of his collection, storing the rest in warehouses in Paris and London. Twelve years later, there was more misfortune. Fire destroyed the London warehouse and all the work went with it. The only works now remaining were those stored in Paris, but these too fell from his possession when the French Government laid claim.
The museum has 12 galleries and the collection now amounts to over two thousand pieces. Eleven galleries house the permanent exhibits while the Special Exhibition Gallery is reserved for temporary exhibitions.
The sculptures in the museum forecourt, “The Thinker” and “The Gates of Hell”, have been fitted with special devices to counteract the effects of earth tremours. More of Rodin’s work, and the work of other late 19th century, early 20th century French sculptors can be seen in Gallery 1.
The collection of 15th to 18th century Old Masters includes paintings by Rubens and Mariotto Di Nardo. From the 19th and 20th century there’s Monet’s “On the Boat” and Renoir’s “Woman with Hat”.
Much of the 20th C Modern Art collection in Gallery number 11 has been donated. Amongst the paintings are Picasso’s “Couple” and Leger’s “Red Cock and Blue Sky”.
Open: 9:30 – 5:00pm (8:00pm Fridays) Ticket office shuts 30 minutes before closing
Closed: Mondays (except national holidays), Tuesday if the day before was a national holiday and for new year’s holiday December 28th – Jan 4th (inclusive)
Adults: 420 yen, Students: 130 yen, Children: 70 yen
Special Exhibition Ticket – price varies according to exhibition.
How to get there
The museum is in Ueno Park. Take the JR YAMANOTE LINE to JR Ueno Station, leave the station via the PARK EXIT. Once in the park, folloe the signs.
Suggested amount of time needed
(Excluding journey time) 1 – 1 and a half hours.
The National Museum of Western Art Homepage www.nmwa.go.jp/ Tel: 03 3828 5131
Other Places to Visit Nearby
Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Science Museum – all located in Ueno Park, Ueno and Ueno Park, Asakusa, Akihabara
Featured image in this article Anita Pravits CC 2.0