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: The Richard Gale Collection of Japanese Paintings and Prints


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Others better fitted than myself have already written about Richard Gale, the man, and in this note concerning his collection I shall be dealing with but one activity of a varied life: but I cannot omit one word of personal tribute to the friend I first knew as a collector but grew to admire as an incorrigible individualist with certain traits upon which opinions may have been divided, but one virtue above all others that everybody was bound to respect, an unshakable courage in physical adversity.There is more than usual appositeness in the bequest of the Gale collection of Japanese paintings and prints to The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It is, as it were, the natural culmination of a lifelong association of both the collector and the collection with the Institute. In 1961, Carl J. Weinhardt, the then Director, referred in the preface to the exhibition catalogue1 of a selection of paintings and prints from the collection, to the "many facets of Mr. Gale's benefactions and services to the M.I.A.," and the exhibition marked, in fact, Mr. Gale's retirement as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, in which office he had given several years invaluable service. Moreover, the collection now joins another of outstanding significance in the oriental field already at the Institute, the Chinese bronze collection formed by Alfred F. Pillsbury, Richard Gale's uncle.Nor is the collection in any sense strange to its now permanent home. I have already mentioned the general exhibition of 1961, when some 35 paintings and 110 prints were displayed from January 25th through March 5th. In 1966, a rather larger showing of paintings only was given, the exhibits described and illustrated in a catalogue2 which had an introduction by Richard Gale that quite belies any suggestion that he was not perfectly at home in his subject—a notion some might hastily have assumed and which he, with characteristic modesty, would have done nothing to dispel. Finally, it is not amiss to mention here the two-volume catalogue3 of the entire collection as it stood in 1967—the preparation of which was the occasion of my longest and, therefore, my happiest stay with Mr. and Mrs. Gale at Mound—and which was published by the M.I.A. This also has an Introduction by Richard Gale which is at once the raciest and most succinct account of Ukiyo-e extant. Not by any means the least of Dick's powers was an ability to write prose of a barefaced, downright effrontery that caused scholars to blench, but which nevertheless was vividly effective in conveying exactly what he had in mind.The collection was exactly 50 years in the making—the first print, one of the One Hundred Views of Edo by Hiroshige, was bought in Kyoto in 1922; the last two, a "primitive" by Okumura Masanobu and a superb triptych by Hiroshige, came from the Popper sale in New York in 1972. The total number of paintings and prints is slightly in excess of 300. That number, and the long period of accumulation, immediately explains the kind of collection this is: of slow growth and never intended to be of vast proportions; accessions made only on the basis that the collection was thereby improved, not merely augmented—a process Dick termed "collecting upwards"; and nothing admitted simply because of the prestige of the artist's name and reputation, but only when it gave the collector genuine artistic pleasure.Dick Gale was already in his earliest collecting days, without being aware of it then, adopting attitudes similar to those of Louis V. Ledoux, but later, when in the 1940s Ledoux published the series of great catalogues4 of his prints and expounded his concepts of the ideal collection, Dick acknowledged his concurrence with Ledoux's strict criteria for acquisition and rigorous limitation in numbers. In his foreword to the 1961 catalogue referred to above he wrote: "Louis V. Ledoux was for us the perfect collector. Not only a man of exquisite taste, he had warmth and understanding. Not only a scholar, he was a perfectionist." It is not surprising that when Ledoux died in 1948 and part of his collection was disposed of, Dick jumped at the opportunity to acquire many of the finest prints by Harunobu and Shunsho that became available.But in one fundamental aspect the Gale collection differed from the Ledoux: it was a collection in which paintings were of equal importance to prints, whereas Ledoux had confined himself to prints. Indeed, it is this combination of paintings and prints, often works in the different media by the same artist, that renders the Gale collection unique among the private Ukiyo-e collections of the world: other print collectors may include a few specimens of paintings but none so systematically nor with such superb examples. Before enlarging on this, it should perhaps be emphasized that the Gale collection is very largely composed of works by artists of the Ukiyo-e school and its forerunners. There are some very considerable paintings by artists of other schools (for instance, the scrolls of Scenes from Kyogen by Hanabusa Itcho, no. 25 in the 2-volume catalogue, and the screen panel by Watanabe Shiko, no. 42), but such works are relatively isolated and simply serve to point up the divergences of style that existed in Japanese painting when Ukiyo-e was at its height. As a collection—that is, an accumulation of objects whose bringing together does in fact enable us the better to grasp the nature and output of the school as such, rather than merely the achievements of individuals—the Gale collection must be considered as an Ukiyo-e collection.In that light then, refer back to my former remark, the combination of paintings and prints is of crucial significance. There are a number of fine private collections of Japanese prints in the United States and elsewhere that could bear comparison to the Gale, and larger and more comprehensive ones, naturally, in several public institutions; but in none, private or public, has there been the opportunity to set up side-by-side with the prints, as there will now be at the M.I.A., paintings by such artists as Torii Kiyonobu, Kiyomasu, Okumura Masanobu, Ishikawa Toyonobu Katsukawa Shunsho, Kitagawa Utamaro and others or to display paintings by other major Ukiyo-e artists who do not happen to be represented by, or did not design, prints such as Moronobu, artists of the Kaigetsudo school, Baioken Eishun, Kokasai Fujimaro.It is clear that Ukiyo-e—the colorful record of popular life in the capital, of the courtesans and their boudoirs, the actors and the Kabuki performances, the pullulating live of the streets—was an irresistible attraction to Dick Gale. There was a vital hedonism about it all to which he responded, a richness of flavor that appealed to his palate. He made no bones about his infatuation: "There's great variety," he wrote, "both in good Ukiyo-e artists and even greater variety in Ukiyo-e subjects. What's more gentle than Harunobu's lovely girls in the springtime of life? What's more lurid than Kabuki characters, than Sharaku's wholly evil Ebizo from twisted leer to twisted fingers? Without doubt he cheats at cards, kicks little children and pinches the waitress."Innate feeling for an artist's gifts, a native good eye, and—what so many would-be collectors pine for today—opportunity led to the gathering together at Mound, Minnesota, of a quite extraordinarily high number of Ukiyo-e paintings of an order that would now ensure the accolade of some degree of "National Treasure" rating had they remained in Japan. Many of them, surprisingly, came from well-known and acknowledged sources of an embargo on the export of works of art of such importance. Three of the four great Kaigetsudo paintings (nos. 29-31 in the 1970 catalogue)3 had been in notable exhibitions in Japan before they were acquired; the superb Eishun (no. 35), had been reproduced in color in two major Japanese publications of "Masterpieces" in 1927 and 1933; the famous Arashi Sangoro in the "Catching the Fox" Dance (no. 23) had been even more widely publicized by exhibition and reproduction. Paintings of this caliber were always scarce even in Japan; few now exist outside Japan except in major museums such as the Freer Gallery and the Museum of fine Arts, Boston; no more, we may be sure, will ever be allowed to leave Japan. It is in this light that the importance of the paintings in the Gale collection must be assessed: they comprise what is, and must remain, a group of unparalleled beauty and importance. From now on The Minneapolis Institute of Arts takes a very high place among the Ukiyo-e collections of the world.Jack Hillier, well-known free-lance author, has been writing on Japanese prints and paintings for over twenty years and cataloguing for Sotheby in this field almost as long. Although originally attracted by the prints, in the last ten years he has devoted most of his attention to Japanese illustrated books and paintings. His recently published books include: Hokusai (1955), The Japanese Print: A New Approach (1960), Utamaro (1961), Japanese Drawings (1965), Hokusai Drawings (1966), Catalogue of the Japanese Paintings and Prints in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Richard P. Gale, 2 volumes (1970), The Harari Collection of Japanese Paintings and Drawings, 3 volumes (1970-73), and The uninhibited brush: Japanese art in the Shijo style (1974).Endnotes
  1. Japanese Paintings and Prints. A Loan Exhibition of Selected Works from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Richard P. Gale, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 1961.
  2. Japanese Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Richard P. Gale, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 1966.
  3. J. Hiller with an introduction by Richard P. Gale, Catalogue of the Japanese Paintings and Prints in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Richard P. Gale, 2 volumes, published by Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd. for The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1970.
  4. Louix V. Ledoux, Japanese Prints of the Primitive Period in the Collection of Louix V. Ledoux, New York, 1942; Harunobu and Shunsho, New York, 1944; ;Buncho to Utamaro New York, 1948; Sharaku to Toyokuni Princeton, 1950; Hokusai and Hiroshige, Princeton, 1951.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Baioken Eishun. Japanese, 18th century. Courtesan Fixing Her Hair. Ink, color and gofun on paper, 37" x 20 3/4". Bequest of Richard P. Gale.
  2. Katsukawa Shunsho. Japanese, 1726-1793. Bando Matataro as a Swashbuckler. Color print, 11 7/8" x 5 1/2". Bequest of Richard P. Gale.
  3. Torii Kiyonaga. Japanese, 1752-1815. Girls by an Iris Pond. Color print, 15 1/4" x 10 1/4". Bequest of Richard P. Gale.
  4. Toshusai Saraku, attributed to Japanese, active 1794-1795. The Actor Nakayama Tomisaburo in a Female Role. Ink and color on paper, silver ground, 43 1/2" x 16". Bequest of Richard P. Gale.
  5. Okumura Masanobu. Japanese, 1686-1764. Youth in Komuso Disguise. Print, hand-colored, 25 3/4" x 9 5/8". Bequest of Richard P. Gale.
  6. Ichiryusai Hiroshige. Japanese, 1797-1858. Evening Snow, Kambara. Color print, 9 3/4" x 14 3/4". Bequest of Richard P. Gale.
  7. Katsushika Hokusai. Japanese, 1760-1849. Chrysanthemums and Bee. Color print, 14 1/2" x 9 3/8". Bequest of Richard P. Gale.
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Source: Jack Hillier, "The Richard Gale Collection of Japanese Paintings and Prints," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 60 (1971-1973): 18-25.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009