34.Taking Chinese Paintings From Japan

I purchased a great many Chinese paintings in Japan, over the years, and carried or shipped them home. Mostly there was no problem with this—the pieces were not registered as unexportable. But a few incidents revealed the unease among Japanese scholars that so many good works were being lost to them. It was, of course, their own fault for not visiting the dealers regularly, as I did, to see what new things had appeared, and persuading their museum colleagues or private collectors to acquire the best of them. (Tanaka Ichimatsu (or Isshô) was known as a Japanese scholar who did regularly make the rounds of dealers—it was said of him, as of me, that he "walks a lot," i.e. gets around.)

On one Japan trip I visited Eda Bungadô (see 29) soon after I arrived and was shown the wonderful painting by Cui Cizhong (now belonging to my son Nicholas); I immediately told Eda that I wanted it, and would be back later to purchase and receive it. However, by some chance Suzuki Kei brought Yonezawa Yoshiho to Eda's to look at paintings, and they were shown this, and immediately became upset that a foreigner was buying it. The box had inscriptions by two early 19h cent. Japanese artists, Yamamoto Baiitsu and (can't remember name), as well as one by Tessai. They asked me—and let this request, while necessarily unofficial, be known to their colleagues and to Eda—to refrain from buying it, leave it in Japan. The matter was much talked about during the weeks after that. I eventually took the stand that their National Treasure and Important Cultural Property laws were intended to apply to pieces that had played some part in, or had some effect on, Japanese art—had been copied or imitated by Japanese artists, recorded in books, etc.—and that this piece did not belong in that category: no earlier Japanese writer on art, to my knowledge, mentions Cui Cizhong; the piece had never been exhibited or published or mentioned. I felt no compunction about taking it from Japan. I did, however, say that I had also acquired there, on a previous trip, a work by Xia Yong or Xia Mingyuan, the Yuan-period painter of fine-line architectural subjects, who had been recorded and appreciated in Japan (more than in China), and that I would make a gift of this to the Bunkachô if they wanted it. The offer was not accepted, and most people I spoke with felt that I had made the right decision—Suzuki and Yonezawa had no authority, but also no moral right, to make such a request of me.

(The box for the Cui Cizhong, along with several others, was lost during the Fantastics and Eccentrics exhibition—the paintings came back boxless, and no one ever determined which museum had lost them. A photo of the box inscriptions is with the photos of the painting in the photo archive of the Bijutsu Kenkyûjo in Ueno Park.)

The other incident was when I arrived in Japan just as an issue of Geijutsu Shinchô, the rather sensationalist art journal, appeared with an article titled "Tokyo Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan no heta na kaimono" (or "The Clumsy Shopping of the Tokyo National Museum.) Their point was that the Tôhaku (for short), in its pursuit of Song-Yuan paintings as the only ones worthy of a place in their collection, had neglected to acquire really good Ming-Qing paintings as they came on the market, and had allowed too many to be bought by foreigners; also, the article charged, several of their purchases in Ming-Qing painting were of dubious authenticity. (One example they reproduced was a "Waterfall on Mt. Lu" by Lu Wei, early Qing master, which to me seemed odd but OK.) I don't remember the author of the article, but my friend Shindô Takehiro was somehow behind it, and told me about it. It continued: "Just as this issue goes to press, the American scholar James Cahill is arriving in Japan, and we can be sure that when he leaves, Chinese paintings that we will later regret having lost will go with him." I learned also that the Tôhaku people were phoning dealers and saying "Don't sell your Ming-Qing paintings to Cahill—save them and show them to us." Several dealers told me of receiving such calls, which didn't trouble them—Yabumoto Sôgoro in Amagasaki received one while I was there, and when I asked him, "Does this mean that you can't sell me [the painting I was about to buy,] he replied "Of course not—I don't pay any attention to them." The Tôhaku did indeed buy more Ming-Qing paintings after that, not always, in my opinion, wisely.

I always had a showing at Mayuyama's, near the end of each stay in Japan, of paintings I had acquired, and invited the Japanese specialists to them, so that I would never seem to be taking the works out secretly. I recall once running into Kei Suzuki while he was writing his book on Zhe-school painting, and I asked him how it was going; he said his problem was that he couldn't find enough new material, and didn't want to publish only the old familiar pieces. I told him "You should go to the Yûshima Seidô, where there are usually some Zhe-school pictures for sale, cheap"—he laughed, but it was indeed the truth (they were left there on consignment, I think, by Chinese living in Japan mostly? So I was told.) At Mayuyama's I showed him several I had recently purchased there; two or three of them in fact appeared later in his book. (Part of the advantage of being based at Mayuyama's was that pieces could easily to photographed there, and showings were convenient.) The prices of the paintings had been only $150 - $250 U.S.—big works on silk, signed, of a kind too large and otherwise unsuitable for tokonoma hanging, and so of small value.

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