September 01, 2004

We inaugurated our new gallery space at 17 East 76th Street in March with the exhibition "Japanese Ink Paintings, 1300-1700." The selection included a rare portrait of the White-Robed Kannon by one of the earliest Japanese pilgrim painters, Mokuan Reien; two works by Yamada Doan I, one of them a pair of hanging scrolls; three by Sesson Shukei, one of them a triptych; and three ink paintings by the Rinpa School artists Tawaraya Sotatsu and Ogata Korin. A brilliant decorative screen of a bridge and willows painted by an unknown artist around 1600 was another highlight of the show.

Our fall 2004 exhibition consisted of Japanese sword fittings once owned by Alexander G. Mosle (1862-1949), who formed an important collection of Japanese art while living in Japan from 1884 until 1907.

Ranging in styles from simple Zen-inspired designs in iron to lavishly embellished sets in alloys of soft-metal-gold, silver, and copper-sword fittings have long been among the most admired of Japanese miniature arts. In feudal times warlords had to maintain and equip standing armies, and by about 1700 an estimated two million samurai were authorized to wear swords (a long and short sword per man). In selecting their sword mountings they had a wide range of styles, materials, imagery, and technique to choose from. During the long peace that marked the Edo period (1615-1867), swords were worn as symbols of status, and numerous schools of craftsmen specializing in sword fittings grew up, each with its own traditions and decorative styles. In the late 19th century, collecting sword fittings became popular both among Japanese and Western collectors, the latter imbued with the enthusiasm for all things Japanese that marked the turn of the century in America and Europe.

Originally from Leipzig, Mosle was just such a collector. He arrived in Japan in 1884, and as the representative of the Gruson Company, a subsidiary of Krupp, he succeeded in persuading the Japanese government to use German, rather than French, weaponry. By 1907 he was able to retire, returning to Germany where he devoted himself to the large art collection he had built up during his stay in Japan. At its height this numbered 2,249 pieces, featuring swords, armor, sword fittings (over 1,600 of them), paintings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, lacquer, and textiles. Mosle sought out only the finest, and he actively consulted the leading scholars and dealers of his time when making purchases.

In the late 1920s Mosle brought his collection to the United States, where he began trying to disperse it, principally among public institutions, but with only partial success. His death in Washington in 1949 followed a period of decline during which he was not in control of his affairs, and what remained of his collection, including all the metalwork, was sent to New York for auction in 1948, where it was disposed of in two parts. The present selection was acquired following that sale and has remained in private hands ever since. It includes many of Mosle's finest 18th- and 19th century soft-metal sword fittings.

For further information, please visit the Exhibitions section of our website.

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