The V&A Working in and with Japan
Collections & galleries
The V&A's diverse collection of Japanese art and design is one of the largest in Britain. It includes ceramics, lacquer, arms and armour, woodwork, metalwork, textiles and dress, prints, paintings and sculpture. With the exception of some early metalwork, ceramics and Buddhist sculpture, most objects date from the Edo (1615-1868) and Meiji periods (1868-1912). The V&A's collection of Edo-period ukiyo-e, Pictures of the Floating World, is one of the largest and finest in the world, with over 25,000 prints, paintings, drawings and albums. An active programme of acquiring modern and contemporary studio crafts has resulted in the V&A having one of the most prestigious holdings of this material outside Japan.
The V&A was founded in 1852 and during its early years acquired a great many Japanese objects. In doing so it played a significant role in bringing the art of Japan to the attention of designers, manufacturers and the British public. One of the highlights of the collection is a group of over 200 ceramics selected for the Museum and acquired after their display at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition.
The Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art opened in December 1986. Designed by Paul Williams of Stanton Williams, it is the largest permanent gallery of Japanese art in the UK. The Toshiba Gallery contains a wide range of spectacular objects illustrating the remarkable craftsmanship and artistic wealth of Japan from the sixth century up to the present day. Examples of Japanese art can also be found in many other galleries, including the British Galleries, the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery of Asian Buddhist Sculpture, and the new Ceramics Galleries, which display examples of both historical and contemporary Japanese work.
As a centre of academic excellence, the V&A has established good networks with universities and museums across Japan. An important recent collaboration was the Mazarin Chest Project. This four year undertaking funded by The Getty Foundation, the Toshiba International Foundation (TIFO) and the V&A was a major collaborative research and conservation project involving conservators, curators and scientists from the UK, Japan, Germany and Poland. Its focus was the V&A's Mazarin Chest, a large and exquisitely decorated piece of Japanese export lacquer made to the very highest of standards in Kyoto in the early 1640s. Another ongoing and long-term project has been the digitisation of the V&A’s Japanese print collection in collaboration with the Art Research Centre of Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.
The V&A’s official relationship with the Toshiba Corporation, whose support allowed the establishment of the Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art in December 1986, has recently been extended until 31 December 2021.
An exhibition of an important collection of Japanese cloisonné recently donated to the V&A is on tour along the UK after closing at South Kensington in August 2012. An exhibition of Yohji Yamamoto, one of the world’s most influential fashion designers, was shown at South Kensington from March to July 2011. Kitty and the Bulldog, a display exploring the influence of Britain on the cult Japanese Lolita fashion movement, is on show in the Toshiba Gallery until January 2013 as part of the V&A’s British Design Season. In relation to this the Loli-POP! Friday Late took place at the V&A on 31 August 2012.
Exhibitions drawn from the V&A's collections have been travelling to Japan since the 1980s. Major recent tours have included Morris to Mingei (three venues, 2008-2009), British Watercolours, British Romanticism, William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley.
The V&A’s exhibition team works consistently with venues and contacts in Japan to develop future tours to suit Japanese audiences. The exhibition Arts for Arts Sake will be shown at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo in 2014. Work is similarly ongoing on a multi-venue tour of highlights of the V&A’s netsuke (small carvings) collection. The V&A is also keen to tour a new exhibition on the work of Aubrey Beardsley and his contemporaries to Japan, and is currently in discussions to achieve this.
The V&A continues to receive regular loan requests from venues in Japan, following an established pattern of significant contributions of objects to tours of three or more venues. In 2012 the V&A is lending to a Burne-Jones exhibition at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo, the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, and the Koriyama City Museum of Art.
A group of 25 works on paper, ceramics and furniture has recently been lent to the exhibition Katagami Style held at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto and the Mie Prefectural Museum of Art. Recognition of the V&A’s experience and expertise in working with Japan is reflected in the fact that it has looked after numerous loans from other UK lenders to this exhibition.
The V&A has lent a number of objects to Debussy, Music and the Arts at the Bridgestone Museum, Tokyo, 13 July - 14 Oct 2012, organised by the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.
A significant loan made to Japan in 2010 was for the exhibition Beatrix Potter – Affection for Nature and Art, and the Picture Book of Peter Rabbit. 86 objects were lent for a five-venue tour organised by Book Globe Ltd. A loan of 15 objects formed part of a six-venue tour to Japan of the exhibition Lucie Rie: A Retrospective, which closed in June 2011.
As part of the Furniture Gallery project opening in November 2012, the Learning Department in conjunction with the Asian Department has commissioned an eminent Japanese lacquer artist (Murose Kazumi, Living National Treasure) to produce a series of samples showing the processes involved in the making of takamaki-e (‘high-relief sprinkled picture decoration’). This is being funded by the Toshiba International Corporation (TIFO).
A three-day workshop entitled Japanese Woodblock Printing Christmas Cards took place in December 2011 as part of the V&A’s adult workshops programme. The course, which was sold out, was led by Wuon-Gean Ho, recipient of the Birgit Skjold Memorial Trust Prize in 2010 and the Printmakers Council Award in 2009.
The Arts of Asia: Korea and Japan 12-week course, which finished in November 2011, received very positive feedback from students, particularly in relation to course content and quality of speakers. The course will be repeated in the future. A full day workshop about Japanese cloisonné took place in October 2012.
Japan is a key market for the V&A's commercial division. V&A Enterprises has a Tokyo based representative, Miss Junko Tajima, who liaises with partners and new prospects to facilitate licence agreements and product/retail development on behalf of V&A Enterprises. Licensing of the V&A brand and archive for lifestyle products has been particularly successful in Japan. V&A Enterprises continues to seek partners operating in new product categories and is keen to develop website capabilities for promotion of V&A touring exhibitions and online shopping in the Japanese market.
The V&A has been expanding its foreign language pages and has developed a website specifically for Japanese language users. The aim is to open up the V&A’s collections and the V&A experience to audiences beyond those who come to South Kensington or visit V&A touring exhibitions sent to Japan.