VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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The National Museum in Krakow
Krakow, Poland
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The National Museum in Krakow was established as Poland’s first national art collecting institution in 1879 when the nation was stripped of its statehood and its country by the partitioning powers. Until the end of World War I, it was the only large museum accessible to the public in Poland and today it still remains an institution with the largest number of collections, buildings and permanent exhibitions. The collection of the National Museum in Krakow was sparked off by Nero’s Torches, a painting presented to the city of Krakow by its creator, Henryk Siemiradzki, on October 7th, 1879 with the intention of creating a gallery of national art in the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall). During the next few days more gifts were received from artists and collectors, and the City Council adopted a special resolution founding the Museum. The pace at which the collection was growing showed best how powerful the need for this type of institution was. The bequests were not only entire collections of great value but also buildings which served as new branches of the Museum. Initially, the collecting focus was on works of contemporary Polish art and much less on foreign art. The profile evolved in time. In the beginning of the 20th century the scope of the holdings was expanded to also cover works of decorative art, numismatics, arms and armour, archaeological and ethnographic objects, documents and historical memorabilia as well as the art from the Far East. There were plans to open a department of natural history but after many years of transformation, the Museum gave up on folk art and natural history. The same decision was made for Slavic archeology. The Museum kept only a small collection of antiquities. The collection of Far Eastern art at the National Museum in Krakow began with two Japanese vases featuring scenes of silk production, a gift from Wiktor Osławski in 1892. Today, the art of Japan still holds pride of place in the collection of nearly 15,000 items, which also originates from China, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet and, to a lesser extent, India and Indonesia. The largest and most homogeneous are the holdings of Japanese art, especially graphics of the Ukiyo-e school from the collection of Feliks Jasieński (over 4600 sheets, illustrated books and albums). Almost all the greatest masters of colour woodblock prints of the 17-19th centuries are represented from Suzuki Harunobu, called the ‘godfather of colour woodblock printing’ and Isoda Koryūsai, with his delightfully refined composition of vertical, narrow naga-e prints, to Ippitsusai Bunchō, whose printed portraits of actors and female effigies are laden with his individual style. Particularly interesting in Jasieński’s collection are the works by artists of the Katsukawa school, among them Shunshō, Shunkō and Shun’ei. These are chiefly images of actors, where the expressiveness of mimics and gestures is rendered with bold lines and sophisticated colour composition. Portraits of beautiful women from the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters are the subject of works by a number of masters of the last quarter of the 18th century, Kitao Masanobu, Torii Kiyonagi, and particularly Kitagawa Utamaro. Utamaro’s works include his early print Minamoto-no Yoritomo Hunting At The Foot Of Mount Fuji, unique on a global scale. Equally unique are woodblock prints by the most enigmatic of all ukiyo-e masters, Toshūsai Sharaku. The most striking of Utagawa Toyokuni’s works are his prints from the ‘Portraits Of Actors On Stage’ suite and portraits of girls and prostitutes, mostly diptychs and triptychs. Historical and legendary subjects and artistic descriptions of bloody fights stand out among the numerous works by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Strongly represented is the oeuvre of Katsushiki Hokusai, an artist of many talents. Indisputably, the largest section of the Japanese holdings (roughly 40%) are the works of Ichiryūsai Hiroshige. Apart from his single sheets and albums, the collection can boast of nearly all the most celebrated series of landscapes, scores of representations of flowers and birds, as well as legendary and historical cycles, which, however, the master treated as his peripheral activity. The second largest and most valuable section of Japanese art is arms and armour. The collection of 740 tsuba sword guards and decorative elements of the sword hilt illustrate all the major techniques of sword making and ornamenting and all decorative motifs. From the 50 swords on view (katana, wakizashi, tachi) some showpieces are examples of top artistry, just like a dozen or so helmets, masks and armours. The small but interesting collection of Japanese lacquer includes mainly inrō cases for medication with decorative netsuke toggles (18th-19th century), as well as various types of receptacles, goblets, tables, combs, etc. The drawing card among the Japanese fabrics is the collection of 30 obi sashes, a few kimonos and tapestries, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. A vast majority of objects in the collection of Japanese ceramics are late 19th century products for export to Europe. An addendum to this collection of Japanese art are paintings on silk and paper, framed as vertical or horizontal scrolls (makimono and kakemono), of which the earliest ones, painted in ink, date from the 17th century. Japanese sculpture is represented by bronze and wooden figures of divinities and minor ivory artefacts called netsuke and okimono. Also of note are other items of decorative arts: cellular enamel objects, masterly woven baskets and musical instruments. In the Chinese collection, the most remarkable is a set of some 400 pieces of pottery, spanning the period from the Han Dynasty to the Ch’ing dynasty (2nd century BC to 19-20th century AD), especially the group of the oldest stoneware vessels, are distinguishable by their supreme artistry and high historical value. Chinese fabrics are represented by male and female costumes (hand-woven or embroidered), mandarin emblems, tapestries, and sections of embroideries, most of them dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The Museum has a small collection of jades, enamels and ivories dating from the late period of the Qing Dynasty, as well as some swords and pole arms. The Korean collection comprises contemporary decorative arts, except for a few older items. Art of Mongolia and Tibet are represented by thangka lama temple murals, bronze figures of gods and ritual vessels. The collection of Indian art includes figures made of bronze, wooden and stone sculptures, and folk paintings on paper and glass. Indonesian art is represented by a collection of about a dozen Java batiks from the 18th and 19th century and a few examples of decorative objects by folk artists. Beside its exhibition activity, the department conducts lectures, preliminary surveys and activities promoting the Museum’s Far Eastern collection in Poland and abroad.

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Address
Al. 3 Maja 1 
City
Krakow
Country
Poland 
Website
http://mnk.pl
Contributor
Beata Romanowicz, Curator 

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