September 2004

Japanese Sword Fittings from the Collection of Alexander G. Moslé

September 21—­30, 2004

In September 2004, Sebastian Izzard Asian Art LLC exhibited an important selection of sword fittings from the collection formed by Alexander G. Moslé (1862-1949), a German businessman who worked in Japan between 1884 and 1907. The 170 numbered items, many of them consisting of two or three pieces, were last on the open market in 1948.

In 1876 the Meiji emperor of Japan banned the wearing of swords in public. Swords were the traditional accoutrement of the samurai, and the market was soon flooded with swords and sword fittings that represented 600 years of manufacture by many of the world's finest metalworkers. 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.

Moslé was just such a collector. At its height his collection numbered 2,249 pieces, featuring swords, armor, sword fittings (over 1,600 of them), paintings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, lacquer, and textiles. Moslé sought out only the finest, and he actively consulted the leading scholars and dealers of his time when making purchases.

In the late 1920s Moslé brought his collection to the United States, where he began trying to disperse it, principally among public institutions. In this he was only partially successful, leaving much of the collection—including the metalwork, which he particularly prized—intact. He was stranded on this side of the Atlantic after the outbreak of World War II, and his death in Washington D.C. in 1949 followed a period of decline during which he was not in control of his affairs. Moslé's collection was sent to New York for auction in 1948 and dispersed in a two-day sale. The present selection was acquired following that sale and has remained in private hands ever since. It includes many of Moslé's finest 18th- and 19th- century soft-metal sword fittings.

Among the pieces offered here were over thirty items, including a number of sets and one complete mounting, by members of the Goto School. Other treasures included a kozuka and a tsuba (sword guard) by Goto Ichijo, the last great master of the Goto School; a tsuba by Tsuchiya Yasuchika II with a tiger in a storm and another with a shishi and peonies by Hidari Yasuchika; a soroimono by Masatsune I and his student, Koreyoshi; and a daisho set of guards by the Kyoto artist Kano Natsuo. Every major school of soft-metal sword-fitting makers was represented in the exhibition.

"Japanese Sword Fittings from the Collection of Alexander G. Moslé" took place September 21-30.