A forgotten collection of rare Japanese albums

japanese_exHere’s a special Art Feature article related to a study I’ve done on Federico Zeri’s forgotten (and still unknown by the audience) collection of rare Japanese albums during my MA on Asian Studies internship. Hope you enjoy it in this MidAugust day.


«1982 opening, for the artistic and cultural life of London, under the banner of Japan. The rich exhibition at the Royal Academy The great Japan Exhibition, Art of the Edo Period 1600-1868 (which helped with outstanding loans major Japanese museums and collectors) is the pole around which a large number of books, exhibitions, meetings and various events, all dedicated to the Empire of the rising sun, its history, culture, religion, customs, economy “(Zeri 1982, page 19).



In these terms Federico Zeri (1921-1998) introduced Japan to his audience of readers of the 80 ‘. The art historian had understood the significance of that artistic movement known as ‘ Japonisme ‘, which at the turn of 19th and 20th century influenced decisively the taste collector.

The spread of this artistic current in Europe must above all to the work of Samuel Bing (1860-1905), art dealer and collector of Japanese artifacts, which contributed significantly to the introduction of the art of the rising in Europe. At the dawn of Art nouveau in Paris, thanks to which collectors circle forming around the Société Franco Japonaise opened in 1900 (which included the same Bing among its founders) important and rare artifacts and Japanese prints began to spread in Europe.



Among the most important collectors include: Henri Vever, Edmond de Goncourt, Louis Chialiva, and Jean Boussod. La Société Franco japonaise constituted one of the most important centers of diffusion of Japanese prints in Europe in the 20th century. Bing’s death, his collection was dispersed through a series of auctions, between France and Germany, for several decades. Presumably between 1958 and 1982 original collection back repeatedly at auction in Paris, at the hotel Drouot. In the library of Federico Zeri, there are two significant sales catalogs. One November 26, 1958 (reporting the sale of Hokkei works and Gakutei); While an additional catalog dates back to February of 82. And it’s probably on these occasions that Federico Zeri acquired the collection, describing it in such words ‘ From Bing, merchant of Japanese library which I happen to own a very unique fraction, although limited» (Zeri. 1982, p. 21).



In the summer of the same year Zeri asked Marco Fagioli, ordinary Professor of Japanese language and literature at the University Ca Foscari di Venezia (and curator of exhibitions of Japanese civilization in Italy and abroad) for an appraisal of the small nucleus of his collection, consisting of 24 texts, currently owned by the Fondazione Zeri. Remember beans that he travelled to London to see the works according to the most recent literature of the time, leaving detailed notes on the album precious prints Ehon examined, and photocopying the calligraphy to send her to England, Jack Hillier (1912-1995), the highest authority in the field of contemporary Japanese art. The great scholar produced a list of 17 works of Zeri, who sent to beans (available at the epistolary Hillier, available at the Cultures Museum of Lugano).



Among them are some of the best students of Hokusai: Gakutei ( AE 42324 183 ) and Hokkei AE 42328 187 ), Hokusai ( 200 AE 42341 ) and Hiroshige, Seppo Shun, Ichiosai, Kono Seiko, Keinen, Bunsen, Yoshitora, Senryu, Eisen, Yoshiume. Created between 1790 and 1890, the works belong mostly to the UTAGAWA school, and alternate views of towns, as the views of Namiwa (AE 179 42320 ) now known as master Osaka Yoshiume, paintings reminiscent of the kind Chinese “flowers and birds”, with beautiful poems laid in calligraphy within all works (taken from the anthology of “the hundred poets” and the comic poems with depictions of the poets). Among them there is also a magnificent album of Kimono (AE 41261 216), designed by a student of painter Umesawa Chinese school, Meiji-era (32 years, 1899), as well as an album of botanical illustrations of the same era, the only female artist in the collection, Kono Seiko ( AE 41242).



Of 7 volumes not listed by Hillier we know that they also belonged to Bing and that were viewed by  Fagioli, however, retaining the latter copy of his appraisals, they have disappeared from the texts and then require new appraisals. Zeri put his collection safe in Mentana, and afterwards seemed to not talk about it nor with other distinguished scholars of Japanese prints, with Japanese art gallery owners in Italy in Turin and Milan (from where it was missing however to send sales brochure about Japanese art), maybe with friends collectors who still disdained not Japanese contemporary works as Franco Russoli (1923-1977), whose background was in small part to enrich the library of Japanese art, later at Zeri’s Foundation.



The library of the scholar reflects the awareness of the importance of Japan in Asian Arts, with eighty-two volumes dedicated to every aspect of Japanese civilization (exhibition catalogues, auction catalogues, memories of performances of Japanese culture institutions, scholars and collectors gifts, catalogues).



Zeri continued to collect similar volumes until 1997, year in which was the last publication in its library, dedicated to Raku, Japanese ceramics. A year before his death, his library continued to welcome the gift of volumes dedicated to the rising sun, as is the case today at the Fondazione Zeri, a testimony to its small but unique collection of rare books was not underestimated, but enhanced.


About Odile Milton

I travel through words whenever possible. Odile Milton is my signature on the web as I wanted an alter ego to indicate only my writings and works, not my personal life. Odile like the dancer in black swan, and Milton from the novel An old-fashioned girl. View all posts by Odile Milton

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