Posted:Dec 21, 2021

East Meets West at Marubeni Gallery

A trading house shows off its treasures.

Saburosuke Okada "Beside a Swamp" (1919) © Marubeni Gallery

A new gallery has been added to Tokyo’s expansive list of museums. Opened November 1st, 2021, Marubeni Gallery welcomes art enthusiasts with exhibitions of Japanese and Western art and design. The gallery’s parent, Marubeni Corporation, was founded in 1858 by Chubei Itoh (1842-1903), a salesman of linen cloth throughout western, central, and southern Japan. After the war, Marubeni was predominantly a textile-trading firm. It later diversified its products and eventually branched out into financial and information services. The gallery’s enormous collection has been acquired from the company’s lengthy years of acquaintance with artists and art dealers going back to before the war. In 1969, Marubeni became the first trading company in Japan to engage in full-scale imports and sales of artworks, which have dated from the Renaissance period to the present day. Marubeni Gallery takes pride in its vast collection of Japanese textiles and paintings in both Japanese and Western styles. It aims to serve as "a space where the aesthetics of the East and West in ancient and modern times resonate with each other.”

For its opening exhibition, Marubeni Gallery presents The Echoes of Modern Art between Japan and France (until January 31, 2022). It showcases works of French Impressionism, Symbolism, and Fauvism by artists including Corot, Renoir, and Redon, as well as acclaimed Japanese painters influenced by French art in the 19th-20th centuries. These artists include Saburosuke Okada, Ryuzaburo Umehara, and Ryohei Koiso.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot "The Arbor of Ville-d'Avray" (1847) © Marubeni Gallery

The show opens with Corot’s The Arbor of Ville-d’Avray (1847). The painting depicts a calm, verdant landscape surrounding the home of Corot’s father in Ville-d’Avray, France, where the artist spent considerable time in the summer of 1847. Corot portrays his father reading a newspaper in the sunlight. On the lower right is Corot himself, carrying a portfolio as he returns from a sketching trip. Towering trees contrast with diminutive human figures, accentuating the sense of scale.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir "The Olive Groves of l'Estaque" (1882) © Marubeni Gallery

Visitors are also treated to a rare Renoir landscape in bright hues of yellow: The Olive Groves of L’Estaque (1882). In 1882, Renoir visited L’Estaque and stayed at a hotel overlooking the sea. There, he spent ample time with Cezanne. Although Renoir painted this work during winter, he clearly visualized a spring-like mood with dazzling sunlight that showers over the foliage of the olive trees.

Ryohei Koiso’s Judgement of Paris (1956) illustrates a fusion of Western styles in Japanese art. Koiso based this work on the Greek myth of Paris (son of King Priam of Troy), who arbitrates a contest of beauty among the three goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Koiso was recognized in the early-to-mid 1900s for his Western-style paintings, having lived in France for two years. He also gained several awards, including the first Imperial Academy of Arts Award in 1942. He developed an approach that would be called “Koiso Art,” an elegant style of painting people and portraits of women.

Zenzaburo Kojima "Roses" (1955) © Alma Reyes

Another striking painting is the still life Roses (1955) by Zenzaburo Kojima. It shows a vase decorated with an ancient mythological figure. The vessel holds dark pinkish roses and is juxtaposed against a flat yellow background. Kojima emphasizes the two-dimensionality of the work with a balance between the contrasting colors and a vividly patterned tablecloth. Between 1924 and 1928, Kojima lived in France and studied classical and Western-style painting. He was heavily influenced by Rubens and Degas.

Among the gallery’s priceless collection is a woodcut print that is unusually large (134 cm x 89 cm). Nagahama Hikiyama Festival of Shiga Prefecture (1964) was created by Kiyoshi Asai, who founded the Japanese Printmaking Society in 1960. The impressive work vividly depicts the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival in Shiga, where Chubei Itoh established his trading business. In the print, men in varied positions carry and surround a mikoshi (sacred palanquin), seeming to echo the energetic beat of the traditional drums.

Marubeni Gallery’s textiles and other important pieces from its collections are scheduled to be displayed in the next exhibition, to be held June 7–July 29, 2022.

Alma Reyes

Alma Reyes

Editor, writer, graphic/layout designer, and music artist promotion/event coordinator based in Tokyo, Japan. Holds a Bachelor's degree in Interior Design, studied Computer Graphic Design at University of California Berkeley, Japanese language studies at Osaka University of Foreign Studies, and received her Master's degree in Product Design & Design Management at Kyoto Institute of Technology. Has published over 30 titles as an editor and writer. Interests include design, architecture, art, photography, brush calligraphy, music, piano, concerts, film, theatre, books, poetry, travel, retro, boats, horses, wine, Italian food, and all "uninhibited" elements of life…