Robert Vergez (Biographical details)

Robert Vergez (merchant/tradesman; French; Male; 1924 - 2016)

Also known as

Vergez, Robert


Collector and businessman. Born of a French father and a Japanese mother. His father was a professor who worked mostly in Shanghai and came in to contact with the many nationalities there during the pre-Pacific War years. Vergez spent some of his early education in France, but in the 1930s returned to Shanghai and during the war was protected with his family in the Free French Concession there. Lived almost all of his life in East Asia, moving to Tokyo in 1946 and remaining there until his death. Spoke Japanese from childhood. Throughout the Second World War, a Free French supporter, and after the war found favour with the new French Government. In 1946 given a post in the French Embassy in Tokyo. Given the American-led Occupation, he made a point of learning English, and achieved fluency in speaking, reading and writing. English was the common language with his wife Lisa, an Austrian from Shanghai. Resigned from the Embassy and went into business on his own account as an importer of the international commodities essential to Japan’s economic recovery. As a personal credo, followed the code of the Chinese merchant learned in Shanghai. Became successful, at one time in the 1970s appearing in a newspaper listing of Japan’s highest-paying taxpayers.

As a collector, first interested in ukiyoe at a time when prices were relatively low. Built a significant collection and became an active member of the Ukiyoe Society. Years of collecting resulted in his 1983 publication with Kodansha ‘ Early Ukiyoe Master Okumura Masanobu ‘.

From 1984 formed friendship with BM Keeper of Japanese Antiquities Lawrence Smith, after being introduced by dealer Robert Sawers. By that time had built a major collection of 20th century Japanese prints. Main interest was the Sosaku Hanga movement from its origins. Collection included prints by all the early artists, including rare original prints by Kanae Yamamoto. Particularly interested in Onchi Koshiro, an artist relatively neglected at the time, as well as Onchi's last pupil Yoshida Masaji, and the history of the Ichimoku-kai which had been led by Onchi. Collection included related material, and work by artists outside the movement, such as Yamanaka Gen, whom he knew personally, and Watanabe Sadao. Sold collection of prints by Yamada Masaji to BM in 1985, and entire modern print collection to BM in 1988, when he was still collecting 20th century prints. Wanted prints to be kept together, properly stored, conserved and studied. Supported opening of BM's new Japanese galleries in 1990. Began collecting books designed by Onchi, and amassed several hundred titles in a period of about 18 months, this collection also acquired by the BM.