Japanese Art in Hungary
Exhibition in The Hopp Ferenc Museum of East Asian Art
The foundation of the East-Asian Museum of Art in Budapest is connected with the name of Ferenc Hopp. He came to Pest in the 1830s, as an optician’s apprentice, attended a school of commerce and after graduating continued his studies in Vienna and New York. He became acquainted with the Japanese in New York in 1858, when he had occasion to see the ceremonial entry of the first Japanese embassy. In 1861 Hopp came back to Hungary and became an associate of Calderoni’s, a well-known firm of opticians in Pest. Later he bought the firm. His expertise and hard work made him rich and highly respected in commercial circles. He read a great deal: his favourites were travel books. Already as a young man he had travelled widely in Europe, Scandinavia and Africa, and later he travelled round the world five times. He visited the Far East on several occasions. He was a great admirer of Japanese, Chinese and Indian monuments. The beauties of nature in Japan made an especially strong impression on him. The overwhelming part of his collection was purchased on these trips. But first he only brought back souvenirs for his friends; later everything that could be of interest in Hungary concerning the newly discovered East: minerals, plants, animals. A great part of this he donated immediately to the National Museum. His real passion was, however, the collection of works of art. Up to his last trip round the world – the material of which unfortunately could not be brought back to Hungary because of the outbreak of the First World War – he had built up a collection of 4100 items, mostly of East-Asian works of art.
The Chinese carvings and snuff boxes of jade and other semi-precious stones, and the cloissonné enamels and sang-de-boeuf glazed porcelains are, from the artistic point of view, important parts of his collection. Hopp’s favourites were, however, the works of Japanese applied art. He especially loved Japanese lacquer works, with their infinite variety of colours and patterns, inro-s, ivory carvings (netsuke, okimono), old samurai swords and their accessories: the tsuba-s and kozuka-s, artistically inlaid with gold and silver. A painted and gilded building ornament with a Buddhist theme is today in the Museum’s library: its style reminds one of the famous Tokugawa temple in Nikko. Hopp kept his collection in his villa in Andrássy Avenue: its fame spread quickly, especially because of the small Japanese garden built in its courtyard with Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian stone monuments.
The East-Asian Museum
In his first will Hopp bequeathed his collection to the Museum of Fine Arts and to the Ethnographic Museum. But in 1919, at the time of the Hungarian Republic of Councils, the idea arose of establishing an East-Asian Museum in Budapest and Ferenc Hopp offered both his collection and his villa for this purpose. Consequently he changed his will and bequeathed everything to the Hungarian State, requesting that an East-Asian Museum should be established in his house which should also function as an East-Asian scientific institute. Accordingly his bequest became the basis for the East-Asian Museum of Art. The curator of the new Museum was Zoltán Felvinczi Takáts, who had been working in the Eastern Department of the Museum of Fine Arts and who had been Hopp’s friend. It is due to his activities that, despite many difficulties, the original private collection developed into a real museum in the period between the two World Wars. Several collections and donations were transferred from the Museum of Applied Arts to the East-Asian Museum: Attila Szemere’s collection of Japanese combs and important works of art and from India, Tibet and Nepal donated by Imre Schwaiger and from India by Tivadar Duka. In 1937 Jenő Zichy’s Caucasian and South Siberian archeological collection was transferred from the National Museum and in the 1950s Professor Vince Wartha’s large collection of Japanese and Chinese ceramies and Ottó Fettick’s Japanese art objects were also given to the East-Asian Museum. Zoltán Felvinczi Takáts and Tibor Horváth, the second director of the museum, who died in 1972, had both visited the Far East for lengthy periods of study and both enriched the museum with their own collections – Japanese, Chinese and Korean aquatint paintings, ceramics and small bronzes.
At present the Museum’s collection consists of about 20,000 items: one-third of these are Japanese. Similarly to other Western collections, the overwhelming part of the objects are from the Tokugawa and Meiji epoch but there are also objects from the Kamakura and even from the Nara epoch. Since 1923 the Museum has organized where the finest Japanese items of the Museum were put on show. In 1967-68 art the of the Edo epoch (1603-1868), in the jubilee exhibition in 1969 pre-seventeenth century material (mainly Buddhist sculptures, including the dry lacquer Shaka Nyorai statue and kakemonos), from the 8th century (Nara epoch), and quite recently works of fine art and applied art from the Meiji epoch (1868-1912)
Exhibition of Works of Art of the Meiji Epoch
The historical and critical evaluation of the art of the Meiji epoch, which brought decisive changes from the point of view of the development of modern Japan, has begun only recently. Beside becoming acquainted with Western styles and new techniques – such as oil painting, perspective and anatomy in art – artistic life became livelier during this period. A great part was played in this by the establishment of academies and art associations and of the many exhibition held. Some of the traditional scroll paintings shown at the exhibition represent a new trend in their concept or in their way of handling old Japanese history. An outstanding example is the mythological painting of Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915), the famous wood-engraver from Kyoto, which represents Kuni no Tokotachi no Mikoto, one of the three legendary primeval gods. Another fine work is Hirai Baisen’s (born 1888) long horizontal scroll painting “The Downfall of the Heike Family”. The artist’s two original sketches prepared for the painting and his sketchbook are also exhibited. Araki Kampo’s (1831-1915) very decorative and colourful silk painting, a peacock, won a silver medal at the Paris World Fair in 1900.
The largest part of the exhibition consists of objects of applied art. Most of these items are porcelains and ceramics. They can be divided into three categories: the later products of Arita, Satsuma and Kutani, already known in the Edo epoch; pieces by Kanazawa, Makuzu and Kyoto, produced around the turn of the century, and tea-sets and dinner-services produced with modern equipment for Western export. The ivory and wood-plastics also show a certain duality of character. Besides traditional, Buddhist themes, such as a tender okimono depicting a Kannon, there are also new themes and new styles. These include Yonehara Unkai’s wood-carving, a statuette of a small boy with a young bird in his hat. Another exquisite piece is Okada’s finely carved ivory bear.
The silks to be seen at the exhibition were bought by the Museum of Applied Arts at the Vienna World Fair in 1873. Besides the wood-engravings and lacquer objects, the Japanese silks created the greatest impression in Western countries and the silk-weaving workshops of the time, came up to every expectation. These silk brocades are not only made with technical perfection, they also show modern Japanese patterns that freed themselves from Chinese influence.
The lacquer works are more conservative both in technique and ornamentation but they also show some new hues and patterns. A very interesting piece is Miura Kenya’ s small inro, where the artist used as an ornament a water-bird carved in porcelain and set on a wooden base.
The cloisonné enamel vases offer a good illustration of the differences of these ornaments and colour schemes in China and in Japan; Japanese artists replaced the traditional Chinese blue backgrounds and patterns with a more nuanced colour scheme, and instead of geometrical patterns they applied more figurative ornaments. The cloisonné enamel vase with the snow-covered prune flowers was awarded a gold medal at the Paris World Fair of 1900.
Among the metal works mention should be made of the gold-inlaid iron dishes and commode made by Komai, a famous master who worked in Kyoto at the end of the nineteenth century.
Several small bronze plastics – a woman playing, a boy fishing, a girl reading, show both in their choice of topics and in their style the impact of European sculpture around the turn of the century.