The exhibit, Master Paintings of 17th Century Europe, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the museum in Ueno Park, which, as you will discover shortly, has a French Connection. It features 71, count 'em, 71 works of European art from the 17th Century, including a Vermeer, and works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin, Claude Lorraine, La Tour, Domenichino, Guercino, Velasquez, Murillo and others. They were grouped in an unusual way. Rather than showing them by country, they were divided into three groups: The Golden Age and Its Shadow, Great Oceangoing Voyages and Scientific Revolution, and Relics of Classical Civilization in a Century of Saints.
The edifice of the National Museum of Western Art is interesting in and of itself, having been designed by Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965), a French architect. It was completed in 1959 and was said to be a symbol of the resumption of diplomatic ties between Japan and France after World War II. Not sure how good those ties were as the building is a typical drab concrete cube of the post modern school (with a spiral inside for "interest"), which seemed to be based on construction technology rather than around the people who would use it and for what purpose. [There has been an attitude in Japan - an inferiority complex really - since the Meiji Era and which persists to this day, that if an idea is from some other "developed" Western country, it must be better than what Japan would can come up with on its own. Thus, for example, BMW and Mercedes have snob appeal here, even though Lexus and Infinity are by every objective measure, of equal or better luxury, quality, and reliability and at lower cost. The Moody Minstrel has an interesting post (linked to his name) about a facet of this as it relates to the loss of traditions in Japan. Check it out.]
Le Corbusier (a pseudonym) was an urban designer as well and in 1925 developed the "Plan Voisin for Paris" in which he proposed (I am not making this up) that the whole Le Marais district on the Right Bank be leveled to make way for rows of identical towers with freeways running between them. Thankfully, it was rejected. But I digress...
Before getting in line for the exhibit, we enjoyed a nice early lunch at the restaurant Forestier in the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan (cultural center with an awesome music hall) across the way. We got there at opening time and only waited 5 minutes for a table. By the time we finished lunch, the line had grown to over 30 minutes and overflowed the lobby and down the spiral staircase to the first floor.
The line for the museum was estimated to take 80 minutes. I got in queue while K went for tickets. It turned out to be more like 90 minutes or 100. (After we got home, K discovered that if we had purchased tickets at a "Lawson" convenience store and paid an additional ¥200 -the tickets were ¥1500 each - we could have bypassed the line entirely.) Next time, that is what we will do. That, and go soon after an exhibit opens rather than a couple of weeks before it closes.
The section called "The Golden Age and its shadow" had some exceptionally well painted pictures (duh - they're from the Louvre), such as Vermeer's "the Lacemaker", Rembrant's self portrait with hat and gold chain, and Pierre Dupuis' Basket of Grapes (of all things). However, I was most captivated by several of the paintings in the last group - Relics of Classical Civilization in a Century of Saints - which had paintings depicting scenes from classical mythological stories and Christianity. Who'd o' thunk it?
In the middle group, "Great Oceangoing Voyages and Scientific Revolution", Barbary Pirate with a Bow by Pier Francesco Mola was impressive, as was Wtewael's "Persius Rescuing Andromeda". In the last group, "Tears of Saint Peter" by Guercino was very moving and his tears seemed to come right out of the canvas. The lighting in St.Joseph the Carpenter by Georges le Tour was beautifully done.
We wish there had been more detailed information about the exhibit available online so that we could have prepared better. We like to read up on what we are going to see ahead of time, and were overwhelmed by the number of paintings and pace of the flow of people going through the exhibit. I also would have liked to spend more time with the paintings and less time in line.
Of course, any pictures that I post here can't possibly do justice to the real paintings, and are perhaps not the best selection, but I hope they give a hint of what we were treated to. Not included here are pictures of royals, and of ordinary folk enjoying themselves with drink and song - there were examples of each. I wish I could share a slide show of them all.
It's an excellent exhibit and it was so nice of those folks at the Louvre to share a slice of 17th Century European art with us. If you'd like to see it, better hurry. June 14th is the last day. Of course, you could always visit the Louvre...
Seriously, the exhibit will next appear June 30th (Tuesday) — September 27th (Sunday) at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art.