Gift Of Japanese Art Promised To Harvard Art Museums

Suzuki Kiitsu, “Cranes,” Japanese, Edo period, mid-Nineteenth Century, pair of two-panel folding screens; ink and color on gold paper. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg. —John Tsantes and Neil Greentree photo

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — The Harvard Art Museums has announced a promised gift of approximately 300 Japanese works of art from the collection of Robert and Betsy Feinberg. The majority of their gift comprises screens and hanging scrolls on silk and paper from the Edo (1615–1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) periods. Every major school and painter of the Edo period is represented, and works by Eighteenth Century Kyoto painters, such as Yosa Buson, Ike no Taiga, Soga Shohaku, Maruyama Okyo, and Nagasawa Rosetsu, are a special strength.

The gift also includes books, handscrolls, fans, sculpture and a lantern. The Feinbergs’ collection will have an important place within the Harvard Art Museums’ permanent collections of Asian art, and their gift reinforces Harvard University’s status as a center for the study of Japanese art, especially the history of Edo period art. The couple will also fund the art study center for the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, which will open in the new Harvard Art Museums facility in the fall of 2014.

The Feinbergs’ interest in Japanese art has its beginnings in 1972, when the couple, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchased a $2 poster of a Sixteenth Century screen painting depicting a Portuguese ship arriving in Japan. Shortly after, Betsy’s sister Amy Poster, then assistant curator of Japanese art at the Brooklyn Museum, took the couple to see Japanese paintings at the museum and arranged for them to visit a Manhattan art dealer.

Those experiences opened a completely new world to the couple, and without any idea of forming a collection, they slowly began to discover and to purchase Edo period paintings. The works in the resulting collection tell a comprehensive story of Edo art and depict multiple cultural narratives with religious and secular themes. Each of the period’s schools (Kano, Nanga, Maruyama/Shijo, the Eccentrics and Rinpa) is reflected, as are several genres, such as Nanban and ukiyo-e.

The Feinbergs’ promised gift will arrive at Harvard over the coming years in several distributions, after traveling to museums in Japan, France and the United States. Ninety-three artworks from the collection have been touring Japan in an exhibition titled “The Flowering of Edo Period Painting: Japanese Masterworks from the Feinberg Collection.”

The current venue is the Tottori Prefectural Museum (through November 10). After touring Japan, the exhibition will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (February 1–August 31, 2014). A smaller exhibition of approximately 35 works from the collection will also appear at the Musée Cernuschi in France (September 19–December 11, 2014).

When the new Harvard Art Museums facility at 32 Quincy Street opens in the fall of next year, a selection of paintings will be displayed in the relocated permanent galleries of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum. After the opening, works from the Feinbergs’ collection will be sent on a regular basis for display and for teaching purposes until the full collection comes to reside at Harvard.

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