Sunday, June 03, 2012

Japanese Art and its Path to New England Culture

Fenollosa Collection, Weld Gift Japanese Screen
Fenollosa Collection MFA Boston, Massachusetts

Japanese Art and its Path to New England Culture


During the 19th C. Salem, Massachusetts born scholar, scientist and later fan of Asian culture, Ernest F. Fenollosa (1853-1908) left a legacy which to this day is still being felt by the world of art and eocnomics. Following his graduation from Harvard University in Cambridge in 1874 Fenallosa took a year's worth of study at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston and was subsequently invited to Japan in 1878 to teach by another previous Salem resident Edward S. Morse (1838-1925) who had gone to Japan to study brachiopods and work as a Natuarlist.

While in college Fenallosa had learned to paint,  once in Japan with his wife Elizabeth Goodhue (Millett) also a painter and sculptress, he was fast becoming a fan of Asian Art as well and an ardent student of Japanese Philosphy.

Japanese Art and its Path to New England Culture
Japanese Collection MFA Boston,
Edward S. Morse
The relationship, between these two brilliant men from Salem in a matter of decades had a profound effect on the culture of Japan and the USA resulting in a much greater understanding of mutual benefit between the two countries. Fenollosa taught economics and policy at the Imperial University in Tokyo (University of Tokyo)  obstensibly to help Japan recover ecnomically during the Meji Restoration Period and to study.

Over the ensuing decades Edward Morse built the now famous Morse Collection of Japanese Pottery of over 5,000 examples gathered during his years there. His pottery collection was published by the MFA in a very large oversize tomb in the early 20th C. limited to 1000 copies. (fortunately I have a copy) He was also the keeper of Asian Pottery at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as well as serving on the board of the Peabody Essex Museum.



Japanese Screen Private Collection Gloucester, Massachusetts
18th C. Japanese Screen Depicting Chinese Court Scene
of the Kano Eitoku School,
Private Collection Gloucester, Massachusetts
During Fenollosa's time in Japan he managed to accumulate a massive collection of fine Japanese art, partly due to the desperate economic straits the country was in plus his own passion for the material culture of the land.  Eventually he agreed to sell the entire collection to Dr. Charles Goddard Weld of Boston with the understanding it would be given to the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. Which is where it is to this day.

Japanese painted screen Gloucester, Massachusetts
18th C. Japanese Screen with Chinese Subject matter,
Private Collection Gloucester, MA
As important as both Morse and Weld were to improving our understanding of Japan's art and culture and theirs of our country, Fenallosa stands alone and for the most part an unsung hero for all he did despite his fairly short life. After dieing his ashes were returned to Japan and was buried a virtual national hero to the nation.

It was during this period that New Englands understadning of Japan and Japanese art began to rival that of China which was long established decades before. During this period of expanded understanding of Japan's art and philosophy, numerous objects also found their way into houses in the area. The above screen was found in a house in Hamilton, Massachusetts, purportedly once the property of Louis Prince Agassiz.


Feel free to email or call with any questions about your own , Screens, Chinese Silks, Porcelains or Jades or their values.

Thank you for visiting ~ Peter Combs
Gloucester, MA 978-283-3524