Our fall 2004 exhibition consisted of Japanese sword fittings once owned by Alexander G. Mosle (1862-1949), a German businessman who formed an important collection of Japanese art while working in Japan in the years 1884-1907. It was a comprehensive collection that at its height numbered 2,249 pieces. Of these the sword fittings (1,600 of them) were probably among Mosle's most prized possessions, valued as Japanese sword furniture has always been for its dazzling virtuosity. It was Mosle's ambition to place his collection in a museum setting, but he was ultimately unsuccessful and the collection was dispersed at auction in New York in 1948. The group of sword fittings we were privileged to offer, which included many of Mosle's finest 18th- and 19th-century soft-metal examples, came into private hands following the auction and was lost to sight for over fifty years. Its re-emergence on the market aroused considerable interest worldwide, and many of our clients took this rare opportunity to add exceptional pieces to their collections. The exhibition was also the occasion of our most substantial catalogue to date, an indispensable reference for private and institutional libraries.
During New York's Asia Week in spring 2015 we were showing an outstanding selection of Japanese literati paintings, also known as Nanga, or the Southern School, from its Chinese designation. "Nanga: Japanese Literati Paintings" (March 30-April 6, 2005) could be seen as a counterpart to the exhibition of ukiyo-e masterpieces from the Manno Museum of Art that the gallery mounted in 2003. The two schools--Nanga or bunjinga (literati pictures) and ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world)--were the prevailing art movements of the 18th and first half of the 19th century in Japan. Ukiyo-e, grounded in the plebeian culture of the cities, celebrated the pleasures and pursuits of the emerging, newly monied middle classes. Nanga, by contrast, addressed the concerns of the more cultivated, upper strata of Japanese society, whose men of letters had absorbed the teachings and cultural conventions of China by means of imported books and painting manuals. Many of these literati were bureaucrats by profession, and calligraphy and painting offered them a refuge from the pressures of their political and administrative duties. Both the medium of Nanga, primarily ink with touches of color, and its subject matter, landscape and themes from the natural world above all, reflect this background.
Ukiyo-e had the advantage of lending itself to dissemination by means of colorful woodblock prints, the form in which it found an audience in the West towards the end of the nineteenth century. Nanga, despite its native popularity, proved more difficult to appreciate outside Japan, cut off as most Americans and Europeans were from its literary appeal and cultural traditions. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that serious reassessment took place, when scholars and private collectors began to take an informed interest in Nanga. In the context of Western art, too, as it developed over the past century, what appears sketchy and spontaneous, traits characteristic of Nanga painting, now strikes a responsive chord.
For further information, please visit the Exhibitions section of our website. A fully illustrated catalogue is available.