Between 1916 and around 1927, as his business rode a soaring demand for ships, due to the First World War, Kojiro Matsukata (1866-1950), head of Kawasaki Dockyard Co., Ltd., Kobe (present-day Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.), used his wealth to purchase a large number of artworks, mainly in London and Paris. The original Matsukata Collection ranged over different periods, regions, and genres: paintings by Monet, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, modern British paintings, sculptures by Rodin, medieval panel paintings, and tapestries. If the approximately 8,000 ukiyo-e prints he recovered from the West are included, the collection came to around 10,000 items.
Then, in 1927, ill fortune struck; with his company teetering on the brink of ruin, due to the Showa Financial Crisis, his prized possessions fell victim to the vicissitudes of fate. Works already delivered to Japan were put up for sale; others, stored in London, were destroyed in a warehouse fire; and most of the rest were seized in Paris by the French government toward the end of the Second World War. Of this last group, 375 were later handed over by France as a donation to Japan, and these pieces from the Matsukata Collection finally found a refuge when The National Museum of Western Art was established in Tokyo in 1959.
This exhibition, celebrating the museum’s 60th anniversary, traces the century-long journey of the Matsukata Collection––buffeted by the waves of turbulent times. The 160 or so artworks on display include some of the masterpieces from among the works dispersed in and outside Japan, such as the renowned Bedroom in Arles by Van Gogh and Water Lilies, Reflections of Weeping Willows by Monet, the latter rediscovered in Paris as recently as 2016. They are shown along with a variety of historical materials.