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Some collectors of Japanese paintings and prints

The British Museum collection contains many works of art which originally belonged to private collectors. Their writings often provide interesting historical perspectives on Japanese art.

Augustus Wollaston Franks, Keeper of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography, was also a keen collector of Japanese paintings, ceramics and archaeological material. In 1881 he argued for the acquisition by the Museum of a collection of 3,299 items of pictorial art that had been made by the surgeon William Anderson (1842-1900) during seven years spent in Japan from 1873 to 1880. Anderson also published A Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of a Collection of Japanese and Chinese Paintings in The British Museum, and a more substantial volume The Pictorial Arts of Japan, both in 1886. In his texts he adopted a thoroughly Western viewpoint in his criticisms of a perceived lack of anatomical accuracy, and the failure to use chiaroscuro (light and shade) and Western spatial perspective. Yet there are many aspects of Japanese painting that he admires, including composition, colour harmony and drawing skill.

Another keen collector from a very different background was the writer Arthur Morrison (1863-1945), who in his novels drew extensively on his childhood experiences in London's East End. Morrison never visited Japan, but discovered Japanese prints in London curio shops. He bought many prints and paintings through Japanese and British friends and agents, and sometimes directly from the artists themselves. Morrison's book Painters of Japan (1911) was described by Laurence Binyon, Keeper of Oriental Antiquities, as 'thorough, lucid and competent'. Most of the Morrison Collection was donated to the British Museum in 1913 by the benefactor Sir William Gwynne-Evans, Bt. and other items were bequeathed on Morrison's death.

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