advertisement

This is Japan's only national museum of Western art, and how it came to be is just as notable as its collection of sculpture and art from the end of the Middle Ages through the 20th century. Kojiro Matsukata was a wealthy shipbuilder who made frequent trips to Europe to buy art, eventually acquiring about 10,000 works that he intended to show in a Tokyo museum. The Great Depression interrupted those plans and forced him to sell off much of his collection, while those that had been left in a London warehouse perished in a 1939 fire. About 400 works remained, in Paris, but those were sequestrated by the French government during World War II and only returned to Japan in 1951, a year after Matsukata had died. Those works form the basis of this museum, opened in 1959 and now including works by Old Masters like Lucas Cranach the Elder, Rubens, El Greco, Murillo, Tintoretto, and Tiepolo, and by 19th- and 20th-century French painters like Delacroix, Monet (an entire room is devoted to his works alone), Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Courbet, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin. The museum's 20th-century works, by Picasso, Max Erst, Miró, Dubuffet, Pollock, and others round out the collection, but the museum is also noted for possessing one of the largest Rodin collections in the world, with 50-some sculptures that include "The Kiss," "The Thinker," and, outside the museum's front entrance, "The Gates of Hell." Plan on at least an hour here, unless you also take advantage of one of the special exhibitions—often from prestigious overseas collections—that almost always draw large crowds.