Japanese museums lend masterpieces to institutions in Paris

TOKYO •This time, the French are borrowing from the Japanese.

Two art collections in Tokyo are lending their masterpieces to leading museums in Paris, in a reversal of a trend that sees most facilities in Japan borrowing famous paintings from overseas.

Musee de l'Orangerie, a centre for impressionist paintings, is now holding an exhibition featuring artworks from the collection of the Ishibashi Foundation, taking advantage of the closure of its Bridgestone Museum of Art for rebuilding.

Claude Monet's Water Lilies and other impressionist works are a major part of the 76 items on display, in addition to Western-style paintings by Japanese artists.

The event has drawn more than 350,000 visitors since opening on April 5. It will run until Monday.

Museums in Japan have lent a limited number of items to foreign counterparts before, though there have been a few cases in which many works were sent abroad.

One example is the Idemitsu Museum of Arts in Tokyo lending about 70 items to Pinacotheque de Paris for an exhibition on Georges Rouault from 2008 to 2009.

The Bridgestone and Orangerie museums developed ties after organising a joint exhibition with other facilities in 2012.

The Paris museum later asked Bridgestone to loan part of its collection for an exhibition.

The Tokyo side agreed after it was decided that the facility would be rebuilt, making it easier for it to lend a large volume of art to the Paris museum.

Orangerie was deeply interested in Japan's appreciation of Western paintings by artists such as Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso and its collection of many impressionist and other masterpieces.

The French side was also curious about how these foreign artworks influenced painting in Japan.

Although Europeans are not greatly interested in contemporary Western-style paintings drawn in Japan, Orangerie has dedicated the first room of its Ishibashi collection exhibition to such works, along with explanations on how artists in the Asian country were influenced by impressionism.

"Holding this kind of exhibition can strongly influence major museums in Europe and the United States, while also making it easier for us to loan and borrow artworks in cooperation with them in the future," said Mr Yasuhide Shimbata, Bridgestone's chief curator.

"We hope to make this event a pioneering step towards building a more equal relationship with our American and European counterparts."

When Japanese museums borrow artworks, they have often found themselves engaged in unfair negotiations and end up bearing the costs of restoration or display cases.

The Ise Foundation, which has an array of Chinese ceramics collected by its representative director, Mr Hikonobu Ise, is loaning about 80 items to Musee Guimet in Paris for an exhibition running until Sept 4.

"We loaned them for free with the hope of working as a bridge between Japan and France," he said.

"We want to showcase Japan's sense for art."

In addition to the ceramic masterpieces, the Guimet museum is also displaying wooden containers and silk wrappers for the ceramics - items not usually highlighted at shows in Japan - as it believes they indicate "Japan's distinctive aesthetics and sensibility".

Mr Shuji Takashina, former director-general of The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, said it is "highly significant" that Japanese collections are being showcased outside the country.

"As domestic museums have so far had few opportunities for specialised exchanges of information with their counterparts abroad, Japan's splendid collections are often greeted with surprise by overseas audiences.

"Having Japanese collections exhibited abroad can provide other countries with a good opportunity to discover the excellent efforts Japan has put into preserving cultural assets."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2017, with the headline 'Japanese museums lend masterpieces to institutions in Paris'. Print Edition | Subscribe